With the second drowning of a young person in the Virgin River in less than a month, parents have got to be extremely vigilant.
After the second drowning on May 31, Mesquite Fire Chief John S. Higley issued some good advice to families – good advice that must be followed.
“I have had my share of drowning incidents… all of them tragic and all of them preventable,” Higley said after learning of the second drowning.
The Mohave County Sheriff’s Office had just reported that Alma Rosa Lujan, 14, of Scenic, Ariz., drowned after she was caught in the undertow near one of the water gates at the dam just upstream from the Scenic Boulevard bridge across the Virgin River.
Lujan was swimming with friends in the river when she was caught in the undertow.
The Beaver Dam Fire Department dispatcher told me the department received the 911 call about 5 p.m., that Thursday. Emergency personnel responded but were unable to rescue the girl because of the strong undertow.
It’s just over 12 miles from the fire station to that part of the Virgin River and it takes valuable time to get there. In this case, too much time.
The public information officer for the Mojave County Sheriff’s Office, the agency that investigated the drowning, said Ace Hardware from Mesquite brought in heavy equipment to build a temporary dam to allow the emergency personnel to retrieve Lujan’s body.
It was all too tragically familiar. Just over two weeks earlier, three-year-old Sherlyn Martinez-Alvarez of Mesquite died on May 15 when she was pulled into the undertow at the Bunkerville irrigation ditch as she played in the shallow water of the river.
Higley says parents must supervise their children around water at all times, and have a phone nearby to call for help in an emergency.
“Before you go playing in the river, make sure you have cell service,” he added.
But, there’s nowhere on that river where emergency personnel are going to reach you quickly. You need to be prepared.
“Learn CPR and know how to respond in water emergencies. Remember the old adage, ‘Reach, throw, row, then go,’” he said.
“Take a few things along with you that you can use to throw to someone who may need help,” he advised.
“Enroll your child in swimming lessons after age 4,” he explained. Typically, that’s earliest age when children are likely to practice and retain information. “Teach children how to tread water, float and stay by the shore,” he said.
Higley also provided statistics about the threat of drowning, especially for children.
“Did you know that over 3,500 people drown each year?” he asked. “That’s about 10 per day. Of those 3,500 people, 700 of them are children -- children ages 14 and under. What a tragic, terrible waste.
“Another scary statistic is that according to the Center for Disease Control for every child who dies, another five children receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries, and many of these children exit the hospital with long-term disabilities.”
The river isn’t the only drowning threat to a small child. There are threats around the home that are easy to over look. He advised parents to always stay within an arm’s reach of a child when he or she is in or near the bathtub, toilet, pools, spas or buckets.
“Never leave your child alone or in the care of older children during bath time. Not even ‘for a minute,’” he said.
And once bath time is over, immediately drain the tub. Empty all buckets, containers and wading pools immediately after use. Store them upside-down and out of children’s reach.
Parents should even keep toilet lids closed and use toilet seat locks if toddlers are in the home. If you’re a grandparent and you have young grandchildren who visit, you’ve got to make your home water-safe for the very young ones.
With the large number of private swimming pools in Mesquite without trained lifeguards, parents must assume that role.
“Make sure your pool has four-sided fencing and a self-closing, self-latching gate to prevent a child from wandering into the pool area unsupervised,” he said.
That’s not only good advice: it’s the law. In addition, hot tubs should be covered and locked when not in use.
“It’s not a bad idea to install a door alarm, a window alarm or both to alert you if a child wanders into the pool area unsupervised. From the start, teach children to never go near or in water without an adult present.”
The chief added that when swimming at a neighbor’s, it’s only common sense to take a look around the pool and see where the rescue devices are so you can be of help when needed.
“Never leave your child unattended in any body of water, even if he or she knows how to swim. Children in baby bath seats and rings must be watched every second.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking, ”if an emergency happens.” Instead have the mindset, “when an emergency happens.”
“We, as an emergency medical response agency are asking you to please help us to prevent these horrible and needless tragedies,” Higley added. “Mesquite Fire & Rescue would be happy to set up a CPR class for you and your friends and neighbors or help you find a class to fit your needs.”
You can reach the chief or someone else at Mesquite Fire & Rescue at 702-346-2690.
Learning CPR can save a young life in an emergency. But following Higley’s advice can prevent the emergency in the first place.