Drowning is the second-leading cause of death in children under age 5. Often referred to as the “silent killer,” drowning victims can slip quietly under the water within reach of adults without them noticing. As Memorial Day and the start of pool season approaches, Kunkel Ambulance urges families to recognize the signs of drowning and always watch children during water activities and sports.

“Hollywood portrayals of drowning situations have caused people to have an unrealistic view of what drowning really looks like,” said Randy Sutherland, Kunkel Ambulance director of operations. “In the movies or television, drowning victims will wave their arms, thrash in the water or call for help. In a real drowning situation, victims often slip quickly and quietly underwater before anyone notices what is happening.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 3,500 people die from unintentional, non-boating-related drownings each year, and 340 people die from boating-related drownings.  Nearly 80 percent of people who die from drowning are male and the drowning rate of African-American children, ages 5-14, is three times that of Caucasian children in the same age range.

Drowning victims often cannot get their mouths above water long enough to inhale to call for help. Their limbs will be busy under the surface pushing down on the water and trying to bring their mouths above the surface to breathe. Their bodies will be upright in the water with no evidence of a kick or struggle. These are signs of behavior called Instinctive Drowning Response.

“Once a child enters Instinctive Drowning Response, a rescuer may have as little as 20 to 60 seconds to intervene before he or she slips beneath the surface,” Sutherland said. “If a person is waving or calling for help, this is a sign of aquatic distress, which is still a serious situation and can quickly escalate to Instinctive Drowning Response.”

Signs of Instinctive Drowning Response may include:

  • Mouth submerged or head tilted back with mouth open
  • Eyes closed or glassy, unable to focus
  • Hair over forehead or eyes
  • Vertical position in water
  • Hyperventilating or gasping
  • Appearing to be climbing an invisible ladder

To prevent drowning, safety measures like fences around bodies of water and flotation devices are helpful, but parental supervision is the best defense. Designate a CPR-trained adult as a “water-watcher” to supervise children in the water.

To protect your family this summer, follow these safety tips:

  • Teach children to never swim alone and always designate a CPR-certified “water-watcher.”
  • Keep a phone nearby in case of emergency.
  • Make sure your pool has a four-sided fence with a self-closing, self-latching gate. Cover and lock pools and hot tubs when not in use.
  • Enroll your children in swim lessons.
  • Avoid entirely or moderate your alcohol consumption when boating.
  • Immediately exit the water when the weather turns for the worse, especially when you hear thunder or see lightning.
  • Don’t rely on flotation devices as a substitute for supervision or swim lessons.
  • Don’t dive into water without checking the depth of the pool or lake.

Know the real signs of drowning before splashing in the pool, taking the boat out on the lake or swimming in the ocean and keep families safe this summer.

About Kunkel Ambulance

Since 1939, Kunkel Ambulance has provided excellent emergency and nonemergency ambulance services in the City of Utica and Oneida County in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York and provides mutual aid service to a large portion of Oneida and Herkimer counties. Every Kunkel ambulance is staffed with highly skilled, certified paramedics and EMTs who are trained in the latest lifesaving technology and emergency protocols.

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