Queen Creek, Apache Junction officials stress water safety

Lifeguards learn how to use a back board with an injured patron in an Apache Junction Parks and Recreation Department class. (Photo courtesy of city of Apache Junction)

Preventing drowning incidents is a year-round effort that is especially on people’s minds as summer approaches and thoughts turn to swimming pools and the lakes and rivers near Apache Junction, Gold Canyon and Queen Creek.

There have been no drowning incidents in 2018 in the Apache Junction, Gold Canyon and unincorporated Pinal County areas that the Superstition Fire and Medical District covers.

There was one in unincorporated Maricopa County that the Queen Creek Fire and Medical Department services.

A 3-year-old boy was pulled from a swimming pool Feb. 17, according to a representative from the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. The child died March 2, officials said.

Crews from Queen Creek responded to the reported drowning in the 19000 block of East Happy Road, according to a Tweet on the town of Queen Creek’s Twitter feed.

A family member found the child. A friend of the family and then a family member performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on the child until members of the fire and medical department arrived. The child was unresponsive and transported to the hospital, according to a previous story.

There have been eight water-related incidents reported Jan. 1-Feb. 28 in the Phoenix metro area, with six deaths including three children 5 and under and three adults, according to childrensafetyzone.com, a website that tracks drownings and other water-related incidents in Arizona.

“It is a key point to mention that those who have pools in the community and decide to install pools in the community understand the responsibility that comes along with that and that when you have young children – whether they are your own or others’ and you have those children at your house – always make sure that they are being supervised around the pool all the time,” Vance Gray, deputy fire chief of the Queen Creek Fire and Medical Department, said.

“We have seen in the past even if there is supervision that’s assigned, we still have water-related incidents and so you absolutely cannot let your guard down because it just happens way too quick,” he said.
There was one water-related incident involving a child under 5 but no fatalities in 2017 in Queen Creek, according to childrensafetyzone.com.

In 2017 there were three water-related incidents and two adults drowned in Apache Junction and Gold Canyon, Tina Gerola, community risk-reduction specialist for the Superstition Fire and Medical District, said.

“One was at a residence. It looked like he was cleaning the pool. When I arrived on-scene – Pinal County Sheriff’s Office was already there – he had been deceased quite awhile and was on the steps,” she said. “Older adults drown more than children; it’s just not newsworthy. None of them would drown if they were not by themselves,” she said.

“The other one was in Las Palmas on Ironwood with his little 6-year-old nephew and he ended up having probably like a heart attack or something in the water and it was only him and his 6-year-old nephew,” she recalled.

April Pool’s Day

The city of Apache Junction’s public pool at Superstition Shadows Aquatics Center, 1091 W. Southern Ave., opens for the summer on Saturday, May 26, the Memorial Day weekend.

The city’s annual April Pool’s Day free water-safety event is 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, April 28, at the Superstition Shadows Aquatic Center. It is hosted by the Superstition Fire and Medical District and Apache Junction parks and recreation and police departments.

“April Pool’s Day is actually statewide. Not all of them are in April,” Ms. Gerola said. “It’s an Arizona thing because the weather starts warming up,” she said.

“Overall it’s a fun day. They’re going to learn a lot of very valuable information. It’s free,” Jill Ruot, recreation coordinator for aquatics and fitness with the Apache Junction Parks and Recreation Department, said.
“You can’t put a price on a family member’s life when it comes to being safe around the water. I can’t encourage water safety enough and just the importance of the whole family learning,” she said.

“It’s not just about your kids learning how to swim. It’s not just about mom or dad learning how to do a basic rescue in the backyard pool. It’s for the entire family knowing how to call 9-1-1. It’s the entire family working together to make sure that everybody is having a fun, safe time around the water,” Ms. Ruot said.

April Pool’s Day begins with registration at 9:30 a.m. From 10 a.m.-noon swim instructors will evaluate each child’s swimming skills so that they can be registered in the proper level of classes this summer.

A free lunch and free swimming are available only for those who have attended the water-safety portion of the event and have a wristband by 10:30 a.m. For more information about April Pool’s Day, call 480-983-2181.

“The public can come and they can learn about water safety. We’ve got boat safety and life-jacket safety with Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office,” Ms. Ruot said.

“We teach CPR. We have somebody there not certifying you, but at least giving you the foundation. We have a child and an infant mannequin out there,” Ms. Gerola of the fire district said. “Lots of water-safety information.”

Home-pool safety will also be taught.

“A lot of people in Arizona have backyard pools. We try to teach them and show them the basics of here’s what you should have around your house and available in case of emergency or making sure that you have an adult watching the water at all times, or here’s a basic rescue move,” Ms. Ruot said.

Mini swim lessons will be offered, she said.

“So they can get an idea of what swim lessons are about and encourage them to register for a swim-lesson program,” Ms. Ruot said.

“We put the kids in the life-jackets and we kind of teach them how to float in the water, how to move in the water with a life-jacket on, because it’s a different feeling,” she said.

“If you’ve never been in a life-jacket and you just jump in the water, it’s a different sensation so we teach them how to float on their back, how to kind of huddle together if you get cold,” Ms. Ruot said.

April Pool’s Day usually starts with an Air Evac helicopter landing and then a speech by a family member of someone who drowned or nearly drowned, she said.

“We don’t want to see them ever come to our pool – obviously that means that there’s been some serious situation – but again you want kids and families to be familiar with the process and seriousness of watching your kids around water. We can talk about it, but when you see the firefighters, you see the paramedics, you see the helicopter, you see the ambulance, it helps it hit home a little harder, I think,” Ms. Ruot said.

“We bring a guest speaker. Usually it’s a mom or somebody who has lost a child to drowning or even has ended in a positive way to share their story with the folks out there and to really drive home the importance of watching your kids around water and learning how to swim and how just taking your eyes off of the water for two seconds anything can happen,” she said.

Queen Creek

The town of Queen Creek doesn’t have a swimming pool but it does have the splash pad at Founders’ Park, 22407 S. Ellsworth Road. A public pool operated by the school district is next to the Queen Creek Unified School District offices, 20217 E. Chandler Heights Road.

Drownings don’t only occur in pools. An infant can die in inches of water.

Vance Gray

“We say that an infant or a child can drown in a bucket or a pail. We’ve seen that before. It takes very little water for somebody to have a water-related emergency,” Deputy Fire Chief Gray, of the Queen Creek Fire and Medical Department, said.

“The splash pad, while it does present a problem, we have not had any instances out there,” he said.

Water-safety literature distributed by the fire department includes prevention tips and a description of the A-B-C-D’s of drowning prevention.

“The ‘A’ stands for always having adult supervision when you have kids around the pool. The ‘B’ is for barriers and an example of that is the fence and always having a self-latching gate or a door that closes if it’s just a door as your barrier. And the ‘C’ is for classes and that can either be CPR or swim lessons for the kids. And the ‘D’ is for devices and that would be either the pool rings or the hooks that you can extend out into the pool that can assist somebody who is struggling in the pool,” he said.

Fire department officials have taken water-safety literature in a canvassing of a neighborhood or area of town.
“We do from time to time do those campaigns throughout the community – the literature we always have on hand that we have through our fire-prevention division – and we take that to any public-education event. We have a lot of special events within the town so if it’s appropriate we take that literature there,” Deputy Fire Chief Gray said.

“This year we have not had a drowning-awareness or any type of campaign where we go canvass a neighborhood as of yet. Typically that comes a little bit later in the year,” he said.

An annual drowning-awareness campaign is in August, he said.

“We do – typically around April – some increased outreach as far as a news release and social media posts reminding people,” Constance Halonen-Wilson, public information officer for the town of Queen Creek, said of a drowning-awareness campaign.

“Obviously drownings can happen any time of year, but with that increased activity around water kicking off in April we try to do a campaign. It’s not the door-to-door campaign, but more of an outreach campaign,” she said.

“Our firefighters are day-to-day always out in the community and they have the literature on the fire trucks as well and from time to time they will grab a handful of that stuff and take it into a grocery stores, as an example, when they do their daily shopping. And they’ll stop and talk to the public and hand the stuff out to kids, the adults,” Deputy Fire Chief Gray said.

Literature also includes where to take CPR classes, such as through the American Red Cross (www.redcross.org), the Queen Creek Parks and Recreation Department (queencreek.org/Recreation) and, for groups of six or more and a venue site within the town, with the Queen Creek Fire and Medical Department (queencreek.org/fire).
“We probably have eight to 10 classes a year that we hold,” Deputy Fire Chief Gray said of the fire department. “We supply the instructors and we supply the cards at the end for the individuals to have.”

The CPR classes are a combination of hands-on and video-based, he said.

“The bulk of the presentation is hands-on, for those to get the skill and practice,” he said. “It is the giving breaths and it’s the chest compressions that come along with that.”

Apache Junction/Gold Canyon

The Superstition Fire and Medical District hands out water-watcher tags with lanyards. They can be worn by anyone designated to watch people in a backyard swimming pool, Ms. Gerola said.

When the water-watcher calls 9-1-1, he or she can look to see the address, she said.

Tina Gerola

“While the party’s going on and stuff, they are dedicated to watching the water. Usually it’s for about 30 minutes or so. They’re sober. They’re able to swim,” she said of the designated water-watcher. “They have a phone, but they’re not texting and they’re not checking their Facebook. ‘Un-distracted, capable adults’ is what I always preach.”

She recalled a drowning incident from Father’s Day 2012 when a 4-year-old boy died.

“And that’s when we learned so much. Four calls were made; I had grabbed all of the calls. Nobody knew CPR. Nobody knew where they were,” she said.

Children can drown in bowls as small as a doggie dish, Ms. Gerola said.

“If you think about it, before they can crawl, whatever the parents place them into – a bathtub or whatever – so they can’t leave them unattended. Once they can crawl – buckets, doggie dishes. A lot of people can’t find that believable, but if you think about a crawling baby with big head, fall into the water, they don’t know to push themselves up. So I even say doggie doors that lead to pools… That’s access to water,” she said.

“Once they can walk, it’s free game. If they can get themselves there, they’re going. Even the neighbors’ house. We’re attracted to water,” Ms. Gerola said. “A few inches and a few seconds. That’s all it takes.”

Water wings should never be used as they can pop or be removed. Anyone with a pool should have life vests approved by the U.S. Coast Guard, she said.

“If you are one who has company over and throws parties, $12. Spend some money, get a few extra life vests for your guests that might have packed water wings because they don’t know,” Ms. Gerola said. “Set that rule and tell them ‘this is what we use here and we have extra.’”

She is planning to visit a Head Start class of preschoolers to read from the book “Stewie the Duck Learns to Swim” and to have all of the children try on life vests.

“It’s about never going into the water until you know all of the water rules and you know how to swim,” she said of the book.

“I’ll go into Head Start, we’ll read this book, there’s songs to sing and they all put this on,” she said of a life vest. “Parents have stuck around when they pick up their kids. They have stuck around to hear it and then they’re like, ‘Wow. I didn’t know to use this around the pool’ or ‘I didn’t know that the blow-up arm wings are not safe; I didn’t know they were a toy.’”

CPR classes are offered the first Saturday of every month at the district’s regional training center, 3700 E. 16th Ave. in Apache Junction. Call 480-982-4440 or go to the drop-down menu at the “community safety and education” tab at http://sfmd.az.gov to register.

A minimum of six people and a maximum of 30 can be taught in the district’s community room, Ms. Gerola said.

They watch an American Heart Association video, get instruction and do the hands-on portion with mannequins.

“They have to do the breaths and make the chest rise. One thing that is very important is right now we’re pushing hands-only, where no breaths are needed. However, drowning – breaths are needed,” she said. “A drown – no matter the age – they still need the breaths.”

When someone drowns, the water has depleted the oxygen out of the body, putting them into cardiac arrest, so they need the breaths, she said.

She recently finished teaching all sixth graders in the Apache Junction Unified School District hands-only CPR, she said.

“All of our schools now are safer because every sixth-grade student knows. We delve into 9-1-1, how to recognize an emergency – a cardiac emergency – and hands-only CPR. Every single sixth-grader … has compressed on a mannequin at least 20 times, 2 inches down,” she said. “The educators were stressing ‘hands-only, take action, don’t be afraid, you don’t have to give breaths,’ and then over here we’re like, ‘Wait – you still have to for drownings.’”

AJ lifeguard classes

A junior lifeguard training class is Saturday, April 21, in Apache Junction. Register at www.ajcity.net/onlinereg.

“It is for new junior lifeguards ages 11-14. They go through a one-day training class and they kind of follow a similar application process as a staff person would in that they apply then to be junior lifeguard, we do a little mini interview with them and they are volunteers for the summer,” Ms. Ruot, of the parks and recreation department, said.

Jill Ruot

“They practice their swimming skills. They learn the daily operations of the pool, some customer-service interaction, how to talk with adults. They learn how to size life-jackets properly for kids as that is a big part of their job during our open-swim time,” she said.

They also shadow lifeguards to learn the rules of the pool and how to enforce those rules. They also practice diving into a dive tank to retrieve a brick, which is part of a pre-skills test for a lifeguard-training class.

“It is well-attended. Every year I bring on 30 to 40 junior lifeguards and usually a good half of those are new each summer,” Ms. Ruot said.

Junior lifeguards who volunteer for the city earn credits for every hour that they work that can be used for parks and rec classes or membership at the city’s recreation center.

“Some of the kids like to save up their credits and when they turn 15 they’ll use those credits to pay for a lifeguard training certification or a water-safety instructor certification,” Ms. Ruot said.

“We rely heavily on our junior guards and our volunteers, so it’s a very important program. In the past few years we’ve actually hired a lot of previous junior guards, so it feeds into our staff quite nicely,” she said.

The city of Apache Junction offered a lifeguard training class over spring break, March 12-16, for those who would were 15 years old by March 17. They learned customer service, teamwork and responsibility along with the lifesaving skills necessary to keep people safe at the pool.

“They’re actually learning all of the life-saving skills necessary for an emergency situation, how to prevent the injuries that happen around the pool. They also learn CPR and AED for the professional rescuer, so if there were a medical issue or a drowning they would be very prepared in how to respond,” she said. AED is an automated external defibrillator.

“Our job as lifeguards, we’re there to prevent things from happening before having to go to the means of CPR and whatnot, so being able to identify a distressed swimmer who just might need a little assistance; or to be able to identify that someone is in fact struggling and they need to jump in and help them before it is too late. So we want to be preventative in our actions,” Ms. Ruot said.

The training is certified through the American Red Cross.

“So once they complete the class they will have an official Red Cross certification,” Ms. Ruot said. “We encourage them to apply and hopefully get hired by us.”

The city hires about 45 people to be lifeguards every summer at Superstition Shadows Aquatics Center, she said.

The city also offers a water-safety instructor class through the American Red Cross for ages 16 and up, but the one for 2018 was canceled due to low enrollment. Apache Junction residents can take the class in another city, she said.

The city hires 20 water-safety instructors each summer, she said.

“They are the ones who teach our learn-to-swim program for kids through adults,” Ms. Ruot said.

“I have returners who are coming back who are already certified. I do have a couple staff who have told me they’re already taking certifications in other locations, so yeah, that will be a good thing,” she said.
The city’s swim lessons start for children as young as 6 months to adults.

Students in the water-safety instructor class learn how to get them accustomed to water, being OK in the water and teaching them how to float on their back.

“Their focus is water-safety for the kids as well. If they were to fall into the pool, could they get themselves to the surface and float until someone comes to help them? We start building from there and then we get into more of the skill progression later on,” Ms. Ruot said.

Editor Richard Dyer can be contacted via e-mail at rdyer@newszap.com or at twitter.com/rhdyer or facebook.com/RichardDyerJournalist

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