The Phoenix Fire Department assists with a demonstration of a drowning and CPR techniques.

Aquatics, fire officials urge adults to ‘break the cycle,’ learn to swim.

Stefanie Zeltner watched from a few feet away as the Phoenix Fire Department put on a mock drowning demonstration Thursday at the Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort.

The 15-year-old “victim” lay face-down and still in the shallow end of the pool for a few seconds before a firefighter, acting as a bystander, ran over and carried him out. He called out to another person to call 911 and began to administer CPR.

The firefighters, who had been stationed near the entrance of the pool area, ran over and began demonstrating life-saving equipment. They placed the boy, Jacob Hulett, on a gurney and carted him out to a firetruck.

Representatives of the Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department, the Phoenix Fire Department and Salt River Project — the organizations putting on the demonstration — had alerted visitors in the pool area that it was an act and not to call 911.

But the scene appeared frighteningly realistic. Zeltner would know; she said a family friend’s child drowned a couple of years ago and her nephew almost drowned as a 3-year-old.

Zeltner has four kids of her own, all of them younger than 10.

“I kind of teared up a little bit, for just a little bit. It’s kind of hard not to think of it happening to your own,” she said.

She said that the near-drowning of her nephew happened at a friend’s pool with about 30 people there. The kids had life jackets, but the boy took off his. When a grandfather saw the jacket on the ground, they searched for the child.

He was floating underneath a waterfall in the pool, she said.

“In the movies, they always portray drowning as this big, like, everybody’s screaming for help and splashing and that’s not the way that it happens,” Zeltner said. “It happens very quickly, and it’s silent, and you don’t know that it’s happened.”

Juana Hernandez, an SRP community outreach representative, said Arizona’s child drowning rate is 35 percent higher than the national average. In 2014, 91 people in Maricopa County had “serious water-related incidents,” not all of which resulted in death, according to the Drowning Prevention Coalition of Arizona. Forty-three were 4 years old or younger.

Children’s Safety Zone notes five fatal drownings in Arizona in 2017, four of whom were children.


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Adults drown at higher rates than children

Children aren’t the only ones who need to be watched or who need to learn pool safety. Hernandez said that two to three times as many adults drown as children, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that about 80 percent of drowning victims are 15 or older.

Why? Adults often participate in more dangerous water activities, drink alcohol or don’t realize how medication mixed with alcohol can influence health when sitting in the sun for hours, Hernandez said.

Jacob Hulett’s mom is Becky Hulett, aquatics supervisor for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. She added that many adults just don’t know how to swim.

“They become afraid and so that becomes a cyclical issue in families, when parents don’t know how to swim, they don’t teach their kids,” she said.

The city of Phoenix aquatics department offers two weeks of classes for $15. Hulett said subsidies are available for low-income families. With help from donors like SRP, classes can be as low as $3 for two weeks, she said.

Fire Department spokesman Kelly Lieberman encouraged adults not to be embarrassed about needing swim lessons.

“There are a lot of adults that learn how to swim out here. It’s awesome,” he said. “Let’s break the cycle, then when they have children, they’ll teach their kids. You live in Arizona. You gotta know how to swim.”

The ABCs of water safety

Hernandez said to remember the ABCs of water safety. She described them:

  • A: Adult supervision: “We strongly encourage the community to have a capable adult that can provide constant supervision when it comes to watching kids around the pool, and to make sure they have an adult that is sober, that knows how to swim, that can conduct CPR.”
  • B: Barriers: “Barriers is the fence that goes around the pool. We highly suggest people to make sure that they surround their pools with a pool fence and make sure that children can’t go through, under or over the pool fence, that the door has a self-closing, self-latching gate.”
  • C: Classes: “We talk about swimming and we talk about classes to learn CPR. With Phoenix aquatics, SRP has provided a grant … to offer swimming lessons that are available for free …  to the community.”

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