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VA Department of Health raises Memorial Day drowning concerns

As pools, lakes and beaches open for the season, drowning warning issued by VDH

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(Michel Meynsbrughen/SXC)

ROANOKE – Memorial Day weekend is the start of water season in Southwest Virginia, with dozens of pools opening and families heading to the lakes or beaches to celebrate the unofficial start of summer.

The Virginia Department of Health has issued a special warning for families this Memorial Day reminding them to be careful around water. During this week last year (May 27 - June 5) there were five accidental drownings in Virginia.

Experts say toddlers and younger children are at the biggest risk. For children 1 to 4 years old, drowning is the leading cause of injury and death in Virginia.

There are several factors that put young children at a higher risk- they can be physically top heavy, active, curious and impulsive. Often, younger kids don't understand the dangers of pools and standing water.

Tiffany Bradbury with Roanoke Fire EMS says whether you're at a public pool or one in your backyard, it's important to always delegate someone to be a water watcher. Their job will be to watch the kids, not read a book or listen to music, but focus all of their attention on the kids and making sure they're safe in and around the pool.

Bradbury says many people don't realize just how fast drowning happens.

"When they watch TV and movies and people start drowning, they're screaming and flailing their arms. But kids drown silently, you don't even know they're gone and they're already at the bottom of the pool," said Bradbury.

She says dressing your kids in brightly colored swimsuits can make it easier to find them in the water and keep an eye on them as they swim around.

Here are some top swimming tips from the Virginia Department of Health:

  • Learn to swim. Learn life-saving skills, including swimming basics and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
  • Be prepared. Have rescue equipment by the pool, post 9-1-1 emergency information, and think through an emergency action plan.
  • Supervise when in or near the water. Never leave a child unsupervised near a pool/spa, standing body of water, pond, bathtub, toilet, or water-filled bucket. Look in pools first if a child is missing.
  • Clear the pool and deck of toys. Remove toys from the pool and surrounding area immediately after use so children aren’t tempted to enter the pool area unsupervised.
  • Use the buddy system when swimming or boating.
  • Communicate pool safety tips with the babysitter and ensure they are trained in CPR.
  • Use Coast Guard approved life jackets. Never rely only on flotation devices (water wings, noodles) or swimming lessons to protect a child.
  • Install four-sided fencing. An unclimbable, five foot fence should separate the pool/spa from residences. Fence openings should be no more than four inches wide so children cannot squeeze through spaces. Fence gates should be self closing and self latching. Areas beside the outside of the fence should be free of objects that can help children climb the fence, such as tables, chairs, or tree branches.
  • Don’t swim in the dark.
  • Avoid alcohol before and during swimming.