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Posted July 27, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Supervision at pools key

Santina Edmiston uses a flotation tube
Santina Edmiston, 4, of Front Royal, uses a flotation tube to get around in the pool. Dennis Grundman/Daily

The community pool in Front Royal
The community pool in Front Royal attracts a large crowd every day. At home, parents need to always keep a close watch on their pools to prevent drownings. Dennis Grundman/Daily

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By Linwood Outlaw III -- loutlaw@nvdaily.com

Many Northern Shenandoah Valley residents are lining up at outdoor pools in their community to swim a few laps and cool off from the summer heat. Others are buying their own pools to install in the backyard.

But, even good-natured fun in the water can lead to injuries or something more tragic if the proper safety measures aren't in place. That was the case earlier this month when a 2-year-old Frederick County toddler accidentally drowned in a pool behind his Frederick County home, and a 14-year old boy drowned in a lake at Sherando Park in Stephens City while swimming with his friends.

"It's just important to remember that it only takes a few seconds for somebody to slip and fall into some water. Even in really shallow water, even in a baby pool, it just takes a second for somebody to topple over," said Gretchen Allen, a swimming instructor at Sherando Park. "If they're young and they don't know how to swim, there's really no better tip than to always just stay vigilant, keep watching."

Nearly 300 children under the age of 5 drown in pools and spas each year, and about 3,000 people suffer pool-related injuries serious enough to require medical attention, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

"In competitive swimmers, there's often shoulder injuries. But just among recreational swimmers, there's nothing too major," Allen said.

There were more than 1,100 drownings in Virginia from 1997 to 2006, more than 86 percent of which were accidental, according to recent data from the Virginia Department of Health. Between one and four accidental drownings were reported in Shenandoah, Clarke and Frederick counties respectively during that span, while 10 to 18 such drownings were reported in Warren County.

The Pool and Spa Safety Act enacted in December requires all public pools to have anti-entrapment drain covers and other related systems.

But, people are still being urged to learn and apply safe swimming techniques.

Rescue equipment and a phone for emergency purposes should always be kept near the pool, and people should never enter a pool with a broken or missing drain cover, CPSC experts say. Homeowners should also have their pools inspected for hazards on a regular basis.

It is always best to swim with other people, and small children should never be left unsupervised, Allen said. "One thing that we teach all of our students is to always swim with a buddy, but to make sure that you're never swimming alone," Allen said. "Just for the simple fact that if anything were to happen, there's someone there to go get help or provide help. You never want to be swimming alone."

More than 8 million households throughout the country have an in-ground or above-ground pool, but homeowners looking to buy new pools should take several precautions before installing one, according to the Insurance Information Institute. For instance, experts say, people should contact officials in their town or municipality to check the definition of a pool for their jurisdiction and make sure they are complying with safety standards and building codes.

Homeowners should also notify their insurance company when they have purchased a new pool since it will increase their liability risk, according to the nonprofit insurance institute. Fencing or other barriers should be placed around pools when they are not being used, and people must stay away from pool filters and other mechanical devices, as suction force could cause bodily injury or prevent them from even surfacing, experts say. Pools should also be checked for glass bottles, toys or other hazards before taking a swim.

Drownings involving children typically occur when they get access to a pool during a momentary lapse in adult supervision. Even reports of children leaving the house through pet doors are on the rise, according to CPSC officials. Since 1999, the commission says, 14 percent of suction or entrapment incidents involving pools have been fatal. About 80 percent of drowning fatalities occur in residential settings.

It's OK for children to have flotation devices while they are swimming, but they should never be a substitute for actual supervision, officials say. "Life jackets are always a good idea," Allen said.

The most important tip, Allen says, is to "know your own limits."

"You never want to jump into water that you don't know how deep it is," Allen said. "Make sure that, if you're not a very strong swimmer, you don't end up in water that is deeper than you expected."

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