Supervising swimmers to save lives

UF Health TraumaOne teaches families how to keep swimmers safe through the Water Watchers program.

Three children drown every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most of these incidents happen in commercial and residential swimming pools, and may have been prevented if the child had proper supervision.

UF Health TraumaOne works year-round to prevent children from drowning. Its educators train parents and caregivers on the Water Watchers program, stressing the importance of supervision and drowning prevention techniques.

“We’ve included this initiative in our education and prevention training program because there is a need in our community,” said Rebecca Melvin, TraumaOne education coordinator.

A responsible adult, or Water Watcher, is designated to monitor swimmers with 100 percent attention. A rotation may be arranged if there is more than one adult present. The designated Water Watcher wears an official tag and has a cellphone nearby in case of an emergency.

The CDC reports drowning as the second-leading cause of unintentional injury death in children ages 1 to 14. A drowning can be a fatal or nonfatal event, where an individual has been submerged under water and experiences difficulty breathing, according the World Health Organization. The lack of oxygen during a drowning can compromise several body systems and can lead to death.

“A drowning is not like what you see in the movies with flailing and noise,” Melvin said. “Most drownings are quick and silent, with the child slipping under the water.”

Andrew Schmidt, DO, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville, teaches adults the most important steps to take when caring for children around bodies of water. Guidelines include enrolling in swim lessons, keeping in physical contact and not relying on flotation devices.

“These devices, such as water wings and life vests, cannot replace physical contact and attentive supervision,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt strongly recommends CPR training for anyone in the household who supervises swimming activities. In drowning situations, victims need CPR using mouth-to-mouth ventilations, or another form of oxygen delivery.

If any swimmer shows signs of injury or distress, having a designated Water Watcher with an easily accessible cellphone to call 911 may save a life.

“It’s important for families with pools to get educated,” Melvin said. “It takes less than 2 inches of water for a child to be in trouble.”

TraumaOne offers Water Watcher kits free of charge. Each kit contains a lanyard with a whistle and tag with information about the duties and responsibilities of the Water Watcher. To learn more or to get a Water Watcher kit, contact the Trauma Prevention Program at (904) 244-3400.

Featured Faculty

Andrew C. Schmidt, DO, MPH

Andrew C. Schmidt, DO, MPH

Associate Professor