The first step to preventing a drowning is being alert, say Long Island lifeguards and law enforcement officers.
“There’s been an increase in child drownings because parents are looking down at their cellphones," says Steven Grella, a Glen Cove police officer and 17-year lifeguard who founded Lifeguard LI, a CPR and lifeguard training company. "The biggest thing is to put the cellphone away. Drownings happen so quickly, and it’s so silent."
Parties can be especially risky, Grella says. “Slipping into the deep end is so common, especially with backyard pool parties where you don’t have lifeguards and kids think there are no rules. They think it’s a free-for-all, and they play dangerous games, and kids find themselves getting into trouble.”
Motti Eliyahu, founder of Valley Stream-based Lifeguard Training NY, often hires out lifeguards for parties. Prices start at $50 an hour.
“You’re paying a lot of money for food and alcohol; put aside a little bit for a lifeguard — that peace of mind is invaluable,” says Eliyahu, whose business teaches lifeguarding, AED, CPR and other lifesaving skills.
Eliyahu says he recently saw firsthand what can happen when he was a guest at a backyard barbecue. “One of the kids started choking and clutching his throat, and he fell into the pool,” Eliyahu says. “He was a good swimmer, but was focused on getting the food out of his throat. I went in and pulled him out.”
If alcohol is to be served at your backyard gathering, Eliyahu recommends that someone at the party abstain from drinking to keep an eye on the people in the pool. If you own a pool, he suggests learning basic lifeguarding skills.
“Know how to save someone, especially know how to do CPR,” he says. “At the end of the day, you could save someone’s life.”
There were 89 drowning deaths in Long Island swimming pools from 1999 to 2017, with about 35 percent of the victims between the ages of 1 and 4, Newsday reported recently. None occurred last year in jurisdictions covered by the Nassau County Police Department, said Police Lt. Richard LeBrun. In Suffolk County jurisdictions, there were four pool drowning deaths in 2018, according to the County Police homicide section.
LeBrun says stricter town government regulations, which require self-closing gates and fencing around the perimeter of backyard pools, have played a vital role in preventing drownings. New York State also requires that pools be equipped with a pool alarm that emits a loud noise when there is a disturbance in the water.
Still, children, particularly those new to swimming, tend to overestimate their ability, says Old Westbury resident Matthew Tschetter, 19, a lifeguard at a country club.
“When kids have on floaties for most of the time, they have safety and security," he says. "Once they take them off, that’s no longer the case. Kids are comfortable, but they get too comfortable and start venturing into the deep end.”