Volunteers Aim to End Child Drowning Deaths in Fort Worth

Fort Worth Drowning Prevention Coalition Putting on Low Cost Swim Classes

As children and parents head to the pool this weekend, a stark reminder about the dangers if they don't know how to swim.

Drowning is a leading cause of accidental death for children under the age of five.

Texas leads the nation in childhood pool drownings, with 82 last year. Tarrant County ranked second worst in the state with eight of those deaths last year.

This year, there have already been 18 drownings, according to the Department of Family Protective Services.

One of those deaths happened in Tarrant County. And the Centers for Disease Control said for every drowning death, five other children suffer near drowning-related injuries.

It's being called a "silent epidemic" in the county and in Fort Worth a large group of volunteers are working to reduce those numbers.

This week at Fort Worth's Forest Park Pool, it may have looked like a regular summer afternoon, but the 70 or so children on deck were there for lessons in survival.

"We have a serious problem in our community, it’s a silent, public health epidemic," said Pam Cannell. "It's a silent killer."

Cannell is the chair of the Fort Worth Drowning Prevention Coalition, which hopes to stop the trend with safe swim classes.

"It's all designed for drowning prevention and self-rescue," Cannell said.

For Bill and Anna Siddiqi, enrolling their daughter, Nadia, in the course was a no-brainer.

While they don't have a pool at home, they wanted piece of mind.

"You go to family members, friend's house, everybody has a pool. You want to make sure she knows what needs to get done, and we know also," Bill Siddiqi said.

And during the eight, 30-minute sessions, parents don't just sit idly by, but rather get lessons, too.

As Starrett Keele, a Fort Worth fire safety educator, goes over everything from basic CPR to how to properly supervise children in water.

"Right before they actually drown, it's very silent," Keele said. "If you don't know the signs of what to look for, you could skim right past it and not even realize it."

But with parents armed with the basics and children armed with feeling comfortable in the water, floating, treading and ability to get ten yards to the side of a pool, everyone can feel better about being around the pool.

"Truthfully this is probably the best $5 I've spent in my life," Anna Siddiqi said. "Should she fall in to the water, by the time it takes me to run to her, she already knows what to do."

That's exactly what Cannell hopes parents and their children will learn, as they hope to end the silent epidemic.

One element of research they discovered when starting the coalition in 2012, is that most drownings happen in backyard swimming pools and don't necessarily happen due to a lack of access to public facilities.

Cannell said they hope to take the safe swimming courses to community pools throughout the city.

The lessons are low-cost, so that financial concerns aren't a barrier to safety.

For more information on the coalition and its courses, click here.

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