Kid Drownings

After decades of failure, the well-intentioned still don't get it

But the idea of mandating state controls on parental responsibility isn't the quick-fix it first appears to be. Representative Bill Brotherton of District 20, which encompasses the majority of the Maryvale area, isn't so sure that it would be well-received, or even successful. "I don't purport to be an expert, but if the Phoenix Fire Department felt it would solve the problem, it seems they would have brought that to the city council," says Brotherton. Brotherton is more supportive of local controls than statewide legislation on issues such as this.

"What is necessary in Maryvale isn't really going to be the same in Pinetop or other smaller communities. A one-size-fits-all situation is not going to be an effective one," claims Brotherton.

He compares state legislation on pool fencing and codes to the state stepping into roles best left to families. "How far do we want government to go into this quasi-parental role? Where do you draw the line? Kids run into the street and get hit by cars, so do we start mandating front fences so that kids can't get access?"

Steve Satterwhite
Channel 10's Dave Munsey spearheaded the media's drowning-prevention effort in 1980.
Channel 10's Dave Munsey spearheaded the media's drowning-prevention effort in 1980.

Brotherton suggests that the cities themselves look at taking out the grandfather clauses preventing the older homes from being up to code. "But again, you've got people in these neighborhoods who can't afford it. If it's a law, what are they going to do?"

The "less government" argument infuriates former state senator Kathi Foster: "Pardon me, but that's crap. If all parents were decent parents, fine. But it's like with bicycle helmets. You can't ask that kids pay the price for their parents' not doing their job. We have to do everything we can."A major part of the problem with the formulation of a solution is a lack of standardized recordkeeping over the years. The trends in drowning and near-drowning incidents are hard to trace with often incomplete and sporadic tracking that changes tabulation methods every few years. Tim Flood's study includes a disclaimer stating that "there are a number of significant data gaps. Many of these are inherent in a system that lacks adequate funding and personnel to give proper attention to the task."

The CDC statistics do not track incidents, only deaths, and ADHS statistics (which come from the hospitals, not the fire departments) only track drowning and near-drowning, not submersion incidents, while the Phoenix Fire Department tracks all submersions and incidents, including the ones that do not end up at hospitals. Even between the fire departments and the ADHS, the numbers are often very different. None of the statistics figure in how many children are taken off life support or die of complication years after a near-drowning. The various city fire departments each keep fairly similar records now, but this has only been the case since 1999, and they are still different from the statistics of both CDC and ADHS, the agencies that analyze the data. The CDC statistics come out a year or two after the fact, so when trying to trace what has worked and what hasn't, it is almost impossible to say for certain where the numbers came from, and how many children are truly being affected.

Despite the chaotic records, there is precedent for successful public health campaigns in Arizona.

Cathy Bischoff, the director for the Office of Tobacco Education and Prevention Program, is a woman with a similar mission -- quite a daunting one. Her agency is responsible for implementing a multifaceted program to prevent young people from taking up smoking and to implement cessation programs for teens, adult and other smokers.

In 1994, a cigarette tax was passed that led to the creation of the Tobacco Education and Prevention Program in 1996.

"We looked at what the tobacco companies were doing to target people and we followed that example," says Bischoff. TEPP created a program that addressed not only the marketing aspects of the problem, but also the community involvement necessary to really get to the problem where it lived. "We built a comprehensive model to both bring the rate down and increase awareness."

The two major elements that the TEPP program has that the drowning effort does not -- the factors that have led to its success -- are adequate funding, and detailed research on targets, demographics, with programs tailored to each sliver of the problem.

In six years, TEPP and Bischoff achieved a 24 percent drop in their target demographic.

The very idea of questioning the assumptions behind America's longest-running public health campaign proved unsettling to several of the key players.

The spokesman for Gannett, Gene D'Adamo, vice president of community relations for the Arizona Republic, did not make himself available for an interview.

KSLX instructed its public relations agency not to release critical data regarding the station's role in pool safety.

And much of the information that was released only underscored the need for better recordkeeping.

The head of Fulton Homes, Douglas Fulton, had no idea where the pool fences his company sponsored were built. Leslie Pools, the other company that sponsored the construction of fences, likewise had no idea where its barriers were erected. They said to contact the firefighters for that information. The firefighters claimed they were pretty sure that nearly all 15 or 16 -- they couldn't recall the exact count -- of Leslie's fences were erected in Maryvale. But the firefighters could only trace five fences built by the pool company, and only two of the five were in Maryvale.

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Diane Moore
Diane Moore

The solution to this is soooooo simple, yet seems to be too much trouble for these parents. All they have to do is WATCH their children... and be sure they are taught safety in and around water. My grandbaby is 2 1/2 years and can swim like a fish. He is just finishing an ISR Swimming course this week... I do NOT believe in fences, they give false security. I raised 5 extremely active (and sometimes naughty) children without a fence around our pool, and they are all grown up now... I can appreciate that parents are busy sometimes, but it only takes a few seconds to safely strap a baby/toddler in their high chair, or put a baby in their crib or playpen... and KEEP the doors and windows locked. When my grandbaby visits our home, I wear the key to the backyard around my neck... so I know its locked. Also, I am aware of where he is EVERY single second while he is in my care. Thats all there is to it.

Susan Freyer
Susan Freyer

Don't you sleep? Ever? Children get out when parents and children are supposedly sleeping. It happens. But yeah. It's sooooooo simple.

David Stone
David Stone

Or maybe it's the shitty parents who are having too many kids? Jesus Christ, you fucking Arizona idiots make me sick.


were u with my cousin when this happened? what was her reaction? where was steven ( her Husband) or clifford? what did she say? i dont mean to bother you or bring up something unpleasent but i have heard it was no accident what happened to the boys. and i am trying to find out the truth

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