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Boy's drowning prompts safety warnings

Swimmers splash and play on a beautiful summer

Swimmers splash and play on a beautiful summer day at the Brentwood Timberline Pool in Brentwood on a Sunday. (July 10, 2011) Credit: Photo by Charles Eckert

Tuesday's death of Shane Brennan, a 4-year-old Hauppauge boy who fell into his family's pool a week ago, appears to be Long Island's first drowning of the year -- and it has prompted warnings about how suddenly such a tragedy can strike.

Officials say they've renewed their efforts to raise awareness of the role of parents and caregivers in preventing drowning deaths, whether at home, the beach or in public venues.

Nassau and Suffolk police said they could not recall a previous similar drowning death so far this season. On Tuesday, a 14-year-old boy from Queens died after he was pulled from the water off Far Rockaway, where he and a friend went swimming and started struggling in the ocean in an area with no lifeguards. Friends of Akeem Craig created a Facebook page in his honor on Wednesday.

Since 1999, Newsday has recorded the swimming-pool drowning deaths of 27 children ages 9 and younger. Among them, several drowned during family gatherings, others when a parent or caregiver was working on a laptop, helping or watching other children, picking up the yard, or leaving teenage siblings to supervise.

In the case of Shane, police said they did not know how he fell into the pool, but his father pulled him out last Sunday and performed CPR until emergency officials arrived. He was admitted in critical condition at Stony Brook University Medical Center, remaining there until his death.

Such drownings show that even the lapse of just a few moments can have deadly significance, safety officials said.

"We more and more try to advise and warn the public of the dangers of swimming," whether in private pools or public beaches, said George Gorman, deputy regional director of the state Parks & Recreation Department. "It's heart-wrenching when someone drowns."

A Hauppauge neighbor of the Brennan family, Rabbi Rhonda Neble, 52, said Wednesday that the boy's parents had been hopeful Shane would recover.

"He was a little love," Neble said. "His parents are extremely good. . . . It's so unfair."

At the start of each swimming season, officials said, they try to reinforce the basic notions of water safety. In Smithtown last week, Public Safety Department Chief John Valentine posted a new swimming-safety video on the town's government website, smithtowngtv.org, along with ads for CPR training at local hospitals and at the American Red Cross.

The video includes a detailed swimming-safety interview with Bobby Hazen, founder of the Long Island Drowning Prevention Task Force. Hazen and other experts said that maintaining constant visual contact and being attuned to subtle signs are essential. Drowning can be "a silent event" as a child just slips under the water with no cries or arm waving, Hazen said.

A study of 2,104 child and teen drownings in 25 states from 1996 to 2011 found half directly related to poor supervision by caregivers of the younger children, according to the National Center for the Review and Prevention of Child Deaths. Top reasons caregiverswere not watching at locations that included pools, bathtubs and open water: Distracted, in 561 cases; absent, 331; asleep, 112; alcohol use, 38; drug use, 30.

Kate Carr, president of Washington, D.C.-based Safe Kids USA, an organization working to prevent unintentional childhood injury, said vigilance is the key. When you're on beach or pool duty, "you have to be attentive 100 percent of the time. There's no middle ground," she said. Parents and caregivers may think, "It won't happen to me, but it can and it does."

KEEPING KIDS SAFE

Beach and pool season means extra precautions are in order. Here are tips from safety experts to protect children near water:

  • Maintain constant visual contact. No reading, glancing at Facebook, or reviewing a report.
  • With children younger than 5, use "touch supervision": stay within arm's length at all times.
  • Actively supervise children, even if lifeguards are present.
  • Don't trust a child's well-being to another child.
  • Rotate supervisor duty, wearing and then passing on "water watcher" tags or badges.
  • Check the water first if a child is missing.
  • Give children and caregivers swimming lessons.
  • Make sure caregivers know CPR and water-rescue techniques.
  • Install fencing at least 4 feet high around the pool with self-closing, self-latching gates.
  • Have rescue equipment -- life rings, shepherd's hooks, life jackets -- close at hand and know how to use them.
  • Keep inflatable pools empty and turned upside down when not in use.
  • Swim only in designated areas where a lifeguard is on duty.
  • See the Safe Kids USA water watcher card at safekids.org/assets/docs/safety-basics/safety-tips-by-risk-area/water-watcher-card-1.pdf
  • Download the brochure from Long Island Drowning Prevention Task Force at nextgenadv.com/lidptf/lidptf.pdf
  • SOURCES: Nassau County Police, Safe Kids USA, Long Island Drowning Prevention Task Force, American Red Cross

    With Alison Barnwell

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