15 child drowning incidents in Travis County are ‘concerning,’ officials say


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Travis County first responders have partnered to share a unified message of safety regarding recent drowning events in Travis County they say are “concerning.”

Austin-Travis County EMS, Austin Fire, Austin Police and the Travis County Sheriff were all present at the Deep Eddy Pool on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the 15 drowning incidents that have occurred in the greater-Austin area since Jan. 1.

All 15 of the incidents involved children under the age of 12.

At the Wednesday briefing, ATCEMS Captain Randy Chhabra explained that in the last four weeks ATCEMS and other public safety agencies have responded to three fatal drownings. He continued, responding to the fourth incident involving a drowning incident and a child:

In all of the calendar year of 2018, in Travis County, we only had one fatal drowning of a child. That’s what brings us here today. Those unprecedented numbers.” 

According to Chhabra, the five year-old involved in the latest incident is currently in the intensive care unit at Dell Children’s Medical Center.

According to state officials, of the three fatal drownings: one was in a backyard pool, one in a hotel pool and the third in a bathtub.

Chhabra says that drowning is silent. 

“It’s [drowning] not what we might think or see on TV. When a child gets in trouble in the water, their intinction is to try and keep their nose and mouth above the surface. They’re trying to get air into their lungs — they’re not trying to get words out.”

Chhabra said a child that is in trouble will panic and not scream for help. “They’re also not gonna splash around,” the Captain said. “Typically, the keep their hands below the surface of the water, doing some kind of swim stroke — trying to keep their nose and mouth above the surface.” 

Of the 15 total drowning incidents involving children, 60% occurred in either a hotel pool, park pool or a backyard pool, according to Austin-Travis County EMS. Even household buckets can be a hazard.

Chhabra said that kids — particularly the most often drowned ages of 1-4 — don’t yet understand the hazards of water. “When they fall in the water, they don’t have the ability to self-rescue.”

In order to prevent drownings, Chhabra recommends “The Safer 3 Approach”:

  • Safer water — which includes having barriers of protection around pools, like isolation fences, alarms or even covers for pools or spas
  • Safer kids — which includes making sure kids have swim lessons and knowledge of water by the age of 4, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Children should be wearing floatation devices while in the water — which must be approved by the U.S. Coast Guard
  • Safer response — Adults should have a plan anytime they’re going out to a pool with children. Adults and guardians should be aware of the safety mechanisms around them, including life rings and floatation devices 

The Captain also reiterated, saying: “A young child should never be swimming alone in a pool.”

Emergency officials said they are concerned with what appears to be an uptick in these types of emergency calls. In addition to the 15 pediatric calls, a representative with ATCEMS said there were seven calls of service regarding an adult having trouble in the water.

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