10 NJ kids have drowned in the last month — What parents need to know now
New Jersey 101.5 has reported at least 10 child drownings in New Jersey in barely more than a month. And nearly 800 kids drown each year in the United States, according to an analysis from Safe Kids Worldwide.
Summer is, unsurprisingly, the deadliest season — as pools are open, and families are spending time at lakes, at the beach and at hotels.
As a service to parents, New Jersey 101.5 has assembled critical safety information parents should know when taking their children out to the water.
Children younger than 12 months are more likely to drown at home — in the bathtub for example, Safe Kids told New Jersey 101.5 last year. The pool is the bigger threat for children 1 to 4 years old, and children ages 5 and older and more likely to drown in open bodies of water such as ponds, lakes and rivers.
The deaths reported by New Jersey 101.5 since mid-June include:
• Missing toddler found dead in South Jersey home swimming pool (July 17)
• 12-year-old girl drowns at Sandy Hook beach (July 17)
• 4-year-old girl dies after being rescued from NJ lake (July 10)
• 6-year-old drowns in Jersey Shore hotel pool (July 9)
• Body of drowned Hamilton teen found in Rowan Lake (June 22)
• Electric shock drowning killed NJ 11-year-old — and it’s 100% avoidable, group says
• Second young Belmar girl dies after last week’s drowning (June 19)
• Belmar drowning: School year ends with loss of classmate (June 16)
• Two teens presumed drowned off Atlantic City beach, same night as girl died in Belmar (June 16)
Fences are required for home pools in New Jersey
If you have any type of in-ground or above ground swimming pool, you must, according to state code, you must have it surrounded by a barrier. This usually means a fence that surrounds the pool, is not climbable and has self-closing and self-latching access gates.
It has to be at least 4 feet high, the verticals need to be smaller than 4 inches wide, and the gates have to open outward, the Northeast Spa and Pool Association told New Jersey 101.5 in 2015.
Residents shouldn't rely solely on theirs towns — code officials don't always follow up to make sure fences remain up and up to code over time. Residents can call their towns if they believe neighbors' properties aren't up to spec and pose a danger to their own children.
In some states, if you have a door from your house that opens to your pool area, you are required to have an alarm that will alert everyone if that door is opened. New Jersey has removed that requirement from its code, but safety officials stress it's a good idea.
Sources told New Jersey 101.5 that the fence around a pool where a toddler drowned in 2015 was badly damaged and couldn't keep a child out.
Lifeguards aren't required at hotels and motels
Public officials strongly urge against swimming in the ocean when lifeguards aren't present. But there's no legal requirement that hotels and motels put lifeguards on duty.
There was no lifeguard present earlier this month when a 6-year-old girl drowned in a motel pool in Wildwood. The young girl, according to reports at the time, mistakenly entered the deep end of the pool at Nantucket Inn & Suites. She was unresponsive when removed from the water by guests, and was pronounced dead hours later at a local hospital.
Carol Ann Giardelli, director of Safe Kids New Jersey, recommends that kids don’t swim alone, even in small hotel pools. The organization promotes the “Water Watcher” strategy; when there are multiple adults around a pool with children, adults take turns devoting a few minutes to solely watching the children in the pool, with no other distractions such as cell phones or meals.
Electric shock drowning a deadly risk in freshwater
Last month, a Newark girl was electrocuted in the water of a Jersey Shore lagoon. Safety experts say electrocution is a common cause of death in the summertime, and entirely preventable.
Retired U.S. Navy Capt. David Rifkin, spokesman for the Electric Shock Drowning Association, said electric shock drowning is the result of an electric current leaking into the water, and a human or animal getting close enough to cause muscles to paralyze.
Direct electrocution is a possibility as well.
The risk is much more severe in freshwater than salt water, according to a 2013 article by Boat U.S.’s Seaworthy magazine. Saltwater is much more conductive than freshwater — and since electricity follows the past of least resistance, it’s more likely to continue traveling through the saltwater than through the human body in it. In freshwater, a human body provides an easier path than the surrounding water for the electricity to follow.
The Association recommends swimming 150 feet away from a dock or boat using AC electrical power near the water. The reality, however, is that people want to swim there anyway, Rifkin said.
Rifin said heeding codes and standards designed to prevent electricity from leaking into the water can “reduce the risk but don’t eliminate the risk,” Rifink said.
How to survive deadly rip currents
The following video outlines the steps anyone should take — adults and children alike — when caught up in rip currents:
Don't depend on hearing your child when he or she starts to drown
In a survey of parents from Safe Kids Worldwide, nearly half said that if a child was drowning nearby, they would be able to hear the child struggling.
"In fact, drowning is silent," Kate Carr, president and CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide said. "Small children don't have the strength to keep their head above water, so they are underwater. You're not going to hear a sound."
You can't afford to take your eyes off your small child
Once a child begins to struggle, parents may have less than a minute to react, Safe Kids Worldwide said. About a third of surveyed parents said they left their child at a pool for two or more minutes without supervision. It's advised to keep young children within arms' reach of an adult at all times, and older children should swim with a partner.
A lifeguard helps — but doesn't guarantee safety
"A lifeguard's job is to enforce the rules ... but they're not there to supervise," Carr said.
Lifeguards can't watch every child individually at all times, even though more than half of the surveyed parents think that when present, a lifeguard is the main person responsible for supervising their child. Safe Kids Worldwide created a downloadable Water Watcher card that signals who's responsible for the kids in the water at any given time.
Cildren who know how to swim are in danger
An analysis of children who drowned in a pool revealed that 47 percent of the older victims reportedly knew how to swim. Swim lessons are essential, but skill level varies, Safe Kids Worldwide noted.
"We have to understand that swimming ability can develop over time, and make sure that children not only know how to swim, but they know swim survival skills," Carr said.
What children need to know
The Red Cross says children should be well educated on these five water survival skills:
- Step or jump into water over their heads.
- Return to the surface and float or tread water for one minute.
- Turn around in a full circle and find an exit from the water.
- Swim 25 yards to the exit.
- Exit from the water. If in a pool, be able to exit without using a ladder.
— Compiled from prior reporting by Dino Flammia, David Matthau, Dan Alexander and Sergio Bichao
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