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Commentary: Water safety — Knowing what to do saves lives

Recently, Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District firefighters responded to the report of a near drowning of a child. They arrived to find that someone had been able to get the child out of the pool and perform CPR while waiting for help to reach the scene.

Had the child not received care until the firefighters and paramedics arrived, the outcome could have been different. Fortunately, someone knew what to do and the child is expected to make a full recovery. Knowing what to do in a water emergency, and how to prevent them in the first place, saves lives. 

Whether swimming, boating, bathing, or simply spending time near water, it takes just a few seconds for an accident to happen and drowning is usually quick and silent.

A person who is drowning will lose consciousness in as little as two minutes after submersion, with irreversible brain damage occurring within four to six minutes.  Children are at particular risk of drowning. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drownings a leading cause of injury deaths in children 1-14 years old and are the leading cause of injury death for young children 1-4 years old. 

Fortunately, drownings and near drownings are preventable. Taking the following actions can help save a life: 

• Learn CPR. This is one of the most important things you can do to save a life should a drowning incident occur. As mentioned before, a bystander rendering aid until help arrives greatly increases the patient’s chance of surviving.

• Always have a phone near the pool for emergency use. If possible, the phone should be a “landline” rather than a cell phone.

• Know the address of your location in case you have to call 9-1-1. This is especially important if you only have access to a cell phone. If you are at a location such as the beach or a lake that does not have a specific address, know the name of the closest street and cross street. Being able to provide other landmarks, such as a lifeguard tower number, is also helpful.

• Make sure pools and spas are enclosed on all four sides with a fence at least 60 inches high with self-closing and latching gates. Latches should be a minimum of 54 inches from the ground and gates should open outward.

• Have life-saving devices, such as a hook, pole, or flotation device, near the pool.

• Do not allow children to play in the pool area. Store all toys out of the pool area.

• Any door that provides direct access to the pool should have an exit alarm installed.

• Drains in pools and spas should have anti-entrapment drain covers.

• NEVER leave children unattended in or around a pool or water source. ALWAYS have a designated “Water Watcher” who is responsible for watching those in the pool at all times. The Water Watcher should avoid distracting activities such as being on their phone, playing games, reading, or having distracting conversations. If you leave the pool area, designate another Water Watcher or take all children with you.

• Every child over the age of three should have swimming lessons. Even then, they are still susceptible to danger in the water, especially if something causes them to panic.

• Children using air-filled swimming aids should always be supervised by an adult within arm’s reach.

• When diving, always protect your head and neck by extending your arms over your head. Never dive into shallow water or water with an unknown depth.

• A U.S. Coast guard approved lifejacket should be worn for water sports such as tubing, skiing or jet skiing. Air-filled aids such as inner tubes, water wings, and inflatable rafts are not substitutes for approved lifejackets.

• Most boating accidents involve the consumption of alcohol. Never drink while operating a boat.

Following these simple guidelines can help everyone have a fun and safe time under the sun this summer. For more information on water safety, including building code requirements for residential pools, please visit our website at

The mission of the Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District is “To serve the public through the protection of life, environment and property from fire and other emergencies through prevention, preparedness, edTcation, and response.” Formed in 1946, the Fire District now spans approximately 50-square miles and protects over 34,000 citizens.

The Fire District currently operates out of six fire stations and serves the communities within and surrounding Rancho Santa Fe, Fairbanks Ranch, 4S-Ranch, Elfin Forest, and Harmony Grove.

Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District