Kid Drownings

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

People often tell Donohue that drowning-prevention efforts are too graphic. But he says, "If people want to see graphic, they can come down here and I will show them what I have to do to these kids."

"Here, let me show you," he says, as he goes into another room, returning with a box of medical equipment, and assembling the pieces. He puts a long tube into a syringe about four inches in circumference and says, "This gets stuck down your baby's throat and into its stomach." Then, a small metal piece gets forced into the mouth of the child, to open an airway. "I stick this down their throat and pull out this," he says, and he demonstrates how he gets the trachea clear.

He holds up the tube with the syringe. "We suck the water out with the syringe." He holds up the syringe and pantomimes jamming the tube down an infant's esophagus, and draws imaginary water out of the tube with the enormous syringe. His eyes focus on a baby that isn't even on the Formica table. He is looking at a memory of every child he has done this to, mostly to no avail. He runs his hand through his thick, reddish-brown hair, pausing for a minute before continuing to work on his "patient."

Sharon Marksbury says fixing the pool after a child drowns is too late.
Jackie Mercandetti
Sharon Marksbury says fixing the pool after a child drowns is too late.
Through research and funding, Cathy Bischoff's Tobacco Education and Prevention Program was able to drop the teen smoking rate by 24 percent.
Irvin Serrano
Through research and funding, Cathy Bischoff's Tobacco Education and Prevention Program was able to drop the teen smoking rate by 24 percent.

He pulls out a bright blue plastic case that holds a wide-bore needle the thickness of a pencil lead. "This gets stuck into your baby's bone. And we pour drugs in through that." All of these steps are to get a heartbeat and start the child breathing again. But it is not always good news when those things happen. He stops, and says, "Now think about the neurological state your baby's got to be in to accept all of this. They're dead. They're just looking for the light."

According to Donohue, in most cases, by the time they get to these steps, it is too late. "You can usually pump enough drugs into these kids to get their heart started. And then you're the hero -- everyone loves you."

But things sometimes change when the parent has to deal with the real-life ramifications of their now-brain-damaged baby. "The next week, they hate you, because look at what you saved."

A member of the Station 25 crew brings out a navy blue canvas gym bag. It reads: "Pediatrics." Inside are several color-coded nylon zipper bags.

Donohue pulls out the yellow bag, on which is written "2-3 year olds" in black marker. He picks it up gingerly, as if it is painful to hold. "This is the one you don't want to get. This is the drowning bag." He opens the bag and shows the contents: pre-measured drug dosages, tiny intubation tubes, and other items that should never be that small.

The sheer volume of drowning calls is taking its toll on the C Shift. The friendly, helpful firefighters turn into a frustrated, angry lot the longer they talk about this subject.

"We need to get pissed on TV when they ask us about it. Everyone thinks that since we're firemen, we should be nice all of the time, but we've got to start saying, Hey, watch your kids or they're going to die,'" says Leon.

Donohue claims that people often look for a guarantee, a fail-safe that will ensure their child's safety. But he says the only way to guarantee that your child will not drown in a swimming pool is to eliminate the pool altogether. "Fill your pool with dirt. That's really the only way to get a guarantee."

Anyone looking to rent or buy a home with a pool without the money to install a fence gets no sympathy from Donohue. "They should just get a different house. Rent a different apartment. Otherwise, there's going to be a tragedy."


Maryvale is a neighborhood of west Phoenix that is generally considered to span from Camelback to Osborn roads, between 49th and 70th avenues. Named for the wife of developer John F. Long, Maryvale was one of the most prestigious areas to live on the west side in the '50s and '60s. Since then, it has slipped into a low-income area as better-heeled residents sought more modern homes in newer suburbs.

One of Phoenix's at-risk neighborhoods, Maryvale looks more unkempt than anything else. Its houses are well-built, sit on spacious lots, and generally have three or four bedrooms. But the veneer is gone. Now, most lawns are sun-scorched, and weeding, pruning, painting and other cosmetic work tends to be a few years, if not a few decades, behind.

Maryvale is a far cry from what most people envision when they think of "low-income" areas. It is not the run-down, makeshift dwellings from old south Phoenix, nor is it the government-subsidized housing projects on the Durango curve. It is, or was, a very well-apportioned neighborhood with pleasantly winding streets and several grassy and park areas. It was never intended to be a low-income area.

It is now a neighborhood on the verge. More than 70 percent of families make less than $35,000 a year. Most residents are young families. Only a third of residents have high school diplomas. And a third of residents in 85033 rent their homes.

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4 comments
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.

Family
Family

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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