Maintaining the Quest for Zero: Swim safely this summer

Maintaining the Quest for Zero: Swim safely this summer

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. — Midsummer has arrived, the “heat dome” has set in and the temperatures are soaring close to the century mark.


As August approaches, weather history has shown the heat only gets worse. In an attempt to relax and cool off, many people frequent home and public pools, lakes, ponds and rivers. Some even venture on a road trip to the ocean.

Swimming is a favorite warm-weather activity for young and old alike, but in a fleeting instant, the activity can and will turn very dangerous if careful attention is not paid to personal safety and risk management. 

Sadly, about 10 people die every day in the U.S. from drowning, making it the fifth-leading cause of unintentional injury death in the U.S. The risk is even greater among children aged 1 to 4, who have the highest drowning rates, and it remains the second leading cause of accidental death (second only to motor vehicle accidents) for children 1 to 14.

In a survey conducted on behalf of the American Red Cross, 86 percent of the respondents said they knew how to swim. Yet, the Red Cross found that only about half (56 percent) of Americans can perform basic core swimming skills necessary for “water competency.” This includes:

• Jumping or stepping into water over your head

• Returning to the water’s surface to tread water or float for 1 minute

• Circling around and identifying an exit

• Swimming 25 yards to the identified exit and getting out of the water

One of the first steps to pool and water safety is learning to swim. Formal swimming lessons have been shown to cut the risk of drowning among small children by up to 88 percent. However, knowing how to recognize if someone’s in trouble in the water is also important. If you have young children, experts recommend always staying within arm’s length of them while in a pool. This is because drowning can occur quickly and without warning, even when other people are close by.

Contrary to popular belief, a drowning person typically will not flail their arms and shout for help. They can’t, as their body is working hard struggling to breathe.

The movements of a drowning person become instinctual. Francesco A. Pia, Ph.D., a former lifeguard and educator, coined the term “instinctive drowning response” to describe what happens when a person is very close to drowning.

The instinctive response is for the arms to extend out laterally and press down against the water’s surface in an attempt to keep your head above water. Children may even appear to be dog-paddling when in fact they’re drowning.

The other telltale sign of a drowning person is no movement from their legs: A drowning person will not kick, but will instead remain upright in the water, sometimes appearing to be climbing an invisible ladder with their feet. 

Have you ever heard of “dry drowning”?

Not all cases of drowning occur while swimming. It’s possible to drown hours later in a condition known as “dry drowning” or “delayed drowning.” This occurs typically in children, when water (as little as a few teaspoons) is inhaled into the lungs and prevents oxygen from being transported into the bloodstream properly.

A child may cough when the water is initially inhaled, but then appear to be fine. A person who has experienced a near-drowning is especially at risk, but anyone who has spent time in water can be affected. Signs of delayed drowning to watch out for include:

• Vomiting or involuntary defecation immediately after swimming

• A sudden change in behavior, such as extreme fatigue, lethargy or agitation

• Trouble breathing or wheezing

• Bubbling from the mouth

Dry drowning can also occur when no water enters the lungs, but rather a sudden rush of water into the throat (such as might occur from jumping into a pool with your mouth open) causes the airway to shut, causing suffocation. 

So, if you plan on spending time in or near a body of water this summer, keep the following tips in mind:

• Learn to swim; as mentioned, this is one of the most effective ways to prevent drowning

• Always swim with a buddy

• Enforce pool safety rules such as no diving, no running and staying away from drains

• Wear a life jacket (especially for young children)

• Avoid alcohol when swimming or supervising other swimmers

• If you’re supervising others swimming, be sure you know how to swim well

• Supervise children when in the water (including in the bathtub); supervisors should be in arm’s reach of preschool children at all times, and should not be involved in other distracting activities, such as reading or talking on the phone, when watching children in the water

• If you have a swimming pool, install a fence completely around the pool and remove toys after use (they may encourage children to enter the pool area); also be aware that air-filled and foam toys are not designed to keep swimmers safe, nor are they an acceptable alternative to a life jacket

• Learn CPR and first-aid

This summer, stay focused on your personal safety and our “Quest for Zero” Safety campaign by ensuring you think before you act.

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