Fort Worth

Tarrant County child drownings are up sharply. Why?

Tarrant County drownings

Safe Swim helps prevent drownings as Tarrant County drownings rise.
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Safe Swim helps prevent drownings as Tarrant County drownings rise.

Child drownings in Tarrant County have spiked this year, with seven recorded before the official first day of summer on Thursday.

There were only five juvenile drowning deaths in all of 2017, according to Tarrant County Public Health spokesman Kelly Hanes.

Nobody seems to know exactly why the spike has happened, but two experts said that part of the reason might be that some parents don't take the dangers seriously enough. Also, Fort Worth provides relatively few opportunities for residents to practice swimming, one said.

"We have a dearth of pools," said James Fike, 36, the president of the Fort Worth Drowning Prevention Coalition.

"We only have two city pools, Marine Park and Forest Park, and that's two city pools to serve a population of almost a million, right? That's just not good enough. I think when you compare it to any place like Dallas County or Harris County, they have more city pools," Fike said.

Dallas has 17 outdoor community pools, along with an indoor pool open year-round and the publicly owned Bahama Beach Waterpark. Houston has 37 public swimming pools.

Tarrant County is leading Texas in childhood drownings this year, with Dallas and Nueces counties reporting three each and all other counties two or fewer.

Tarrant often leads Texas counties in juvenile drownings, according to an online database maintained by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

The Star-Telegram has reported on the deaths of five children ranging in age from 3 to 8 over the past five weeks.

And two Granbury High School seniors, Oscar Rios and Julio Espinosa-Guerrero, drowned May 1.

The death of Arlington 5-year-old Drew Byaza on June 4 is the latest.

The same day Drew died, Vivek Dahal, 23, of Addison drowned at Lake Lewisville and Jose Guerra, 26, of Dallas drowned at Grapevine Lake.

Since May 1, there have been five child drownings recorded by Cook Children's Medical Center. In addition, 22 children were rescued from drowning during the same time.

So far in 2018, five boys ranging in age from 2 to 8 have drowned in Tarrant County, according to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Service. Three happened in backyard swimming pools, and the other two at apartment complexes. Two girls, ages 11 months and one year, have drowned — one in a backyard pool, the other in a bathtub.

Tarrant County Public Health has been fighting back, "pushing the message out across our digital platforms for a few weeks now," Hanes said, with campaigns illustrating how quickly a child can drown and the importance of monitoring children in water.

"It's one of the few kinds of death that we can completely prevent," said Fike, who pointed out that even people who are rescued from drowning can suffer mild to severe brain damage.

Two of the most effective ways to keep kids safer are to secure pools with child-proof gated fencing and to require children to wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket, said Dana Walraven of Cook Children's and Safe Kids Tarrant County.

"I think in general, families tend to think that 'it's not going to happen to me.'" Instead, parents should have a safety plan every time their children swim, she said.

To keep children safe while swimming, Walraven and other experts recommend the following:

Teach children to swim; get them lessons. Parents should also learn to swim and learn CPR.

Actively supervise children around water, even if lifeguards are present, and stay within reach of them.

Secure your pool with locking child barriers, and consider getting locking wristband alarms for your children that will sound when they're submerged.

Teach children to ask for permission to go near water, and keep toys out of the pool.

If you can't see your child, check the water first.

Don't go into the water to help a struggling swimmer unless you're trained. Instead, reach or throw something to them.

If a child goes missing underwater at a lake, memorize a landmark to aid first responders.

Have rescue equipment, such as reach or throwing equipment, and a first aid kit on hand, as well as cell phone and life jackets.

A 17-month-old in an above ground pool for 5 minutes in near drowning

Stephen English: 817-390-7330, @sbenglish74

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