Kid Drownings

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

The firefighters, and a new community coalition called the Water Safety Task Force, have been blanketing the area with grassroots efforts. They have given out CPR tapes, taught classes in the area, and literally brought water safety information door-to-door in Maryvale.

The root of the problem in Maryvale specifically is a chronic problem of economics. "When you have a family that is lower income, they're going to take the house they can get into financially, regardless of the state of the pool. And they're not going to be able to afford to get the pool up to code," states Khan.

Media coverage, no matter how diligent, is not enough, in and of itself, to close the gap in Maryvale.

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.

"Providing education alone isn't going to solve the simple issue of economics," admits Khan.

All drowning-prevention programs across the country say emphatically that back-up plans are needed to supervision to really ensure the best possible safety plan. No one parent or caregiver can guarantee that they will never lose focus. The CDC states in its most recent report that 70 percent of drowning deaths in Maricopa County could have been prevented through fencing in combination with adequate gates and latches.

The Arizona Department of Health Services confirms CDC's findings. According to internal studies by ADHS' Tim Flood, the majority of problems throughout the year focused upon the lack of pool fences and inadequate latches on fences already in place.

The CDC's recommendations for layers of protection include a pool barrier, access to pool area secured with high locks, alarms on doors, water survival training for the child, and the caregiver having knowledge of CPR. These five layers ensure that when the inevitable lapse happens, you can come as close as possible to having a fail-safe plan. All five things have to fail before the child will drown.

Unfortunately, these "layers of protection" cost money, something that is harder to come by in Maryvale than in other areas with similar numbers of pools.

A personal friend's loss of a family member to drowning prompted Dave Munsey's Emmy Award-winning Watch Your Kids Around Water campaign. Munsey started the campaign in 1980, and he kept it going, despite changing ownership of the station. Munsey states, "Every time we changed ownership, I would have to re-sell the campaign."

Since the new owners were often from other states, they were not aware of the severity of the problem here and just how important the coverage was. "I would tell them in December that I needed money for drowning coloring books, and they'd look at me like I was crazy. Then around July, they'd get it and jump on board." According to Munsey, the most supportive so far has been Fox, the current network affiliate. "They got it right away and they have given me as much support as they can, and gotten the advertising department to recruit sponsors."

Munsey's efforts are known and lauded by every person connected to the drowning effort because his is the face constantly there from the beginning, sweating in the sun, handing out coloring books at every water safety event in town.

The Watch Your Kids Around Water campaign, though, has been a rocky road that oftentimes is a one-man, uphill battle. "I go anywhere, I do anything. If three people show up, and they want to know about water safety, I will give them the speech," Munsey says. There have been many times when there were only a handful of people.

Munsey says that he has always kept his message the same. "I end every broadcast with Remember to watch your kids around water.' Pool fences are important, and so are alarms and all of that. We do pieces about that, too, but the simple fact is that if you watch them every minute, they won't drown."

Munsey's effort was supplemented by Steve Jensen, a former TV news anchor who had begun work as a fire department media liaison. Jensen teamed with Forrest Richardson, an advertising executive with Richardson or Richardson Agency, and Chuck Alvey, then an anchor for local Phoenix Channel 5. They came up with a campaign called Just a Few Seconds. The campaign was based on Jensen's observation that the phrase they heard repeatedly from families was: "I only looked away for a few seconds."

The three-man team played on their contacts within the media, and corralled everyone from anchor people to printers and billboard makers to support and promote the Just a Few Seconds campaign. Its message was clear, concise, and hit the mark on a large scale. It told people to watch their kids constantly.

And it worked -- temporarily.

In 1989, 35 children drowned in Arizona.

In 1990, the number was 17. The number had dropped by almost half.

But in 1991, the number jumped back up to 26, an increase of nine children dying within one year. And it rose a little every year. The per capita rate of children drowning remained steady, scarcely changing at all.

Media efforts were constant, too, combining the public relations campaign with news segments.

Coverage of a drowning was similar on most networks. The anchor usually introduced the story, and the reporter on the scene showed the house, detailing the circumstances. Sometimes, the cameraman got there early enough to show the firefighters working on the child. On those occasions, viewers watched the gurney carrying the lifeless body, its arm loping off the side, dangling like a soaked Raggedy Ann doll.

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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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