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John Bisnar
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Two Orange County toddlers drown in backyard pool

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This week was a tragic one for a Garden Grove family that lost two toddlers, who drowned in the family’s backyard swimming pool Wednesday.

Khloe Hyunh was only 21 months old and her cousin, Jason Nguyen was 2 years old. The children’s mothers are sisters, according to an article in the Orange County Register.

Officials say that it took only minutes for the two children to slip away into the deep, green, murky water and drowned in the backyard pool, which hadn’t been used for a while. The mother of one of the toddlers was in the house and had let the two kids out of her sight for about 15 minutes, the article said. Doctors tried to save the children, but both died.

Officials said the pool had a fence, but are trying to determine if the gate had been left open.

Here we are. It’s only a few days into spring and already we have two deaths in Orange County. Drowning is the No. 1 cause of death for children under the age of 5, but officials unanimously agree that these tragedies are 100 percent preventable.

“It’s only a matter of seconds,” said Cindy Nagamatsu Hanlon, a community safety officer with the Garden Grove Police Department. “You can’t afford to let them out of your sight for a second.”

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, an estimated 350 children under 5 years of age drown each year in swimming pools, many in residential pools. The Commission estimates that another 2,600 children under age 5 are treated in hospital emergency rooms each year following submersion incidents. Some of these submersions result in permanent brain damage. Two out of three drownings happen between May and August.

But children don’t only drown in backyard pools. In-ground spas and inflatable pools can also pose significant dangers. Inside the house, young children are at risk of drowning in bathtubs, large buckets and even toilets.
The state of California, which is the land of beaches, pools and spas, used to be the nation’s leader in drowning deaths of children ages 0 to 4. But over the years, thanks to legislation and tougher rules, which are absolutely necessary in addition to good old common sense, these incidents have reduced. In 1991 the 121 children between ages 0 and 4 drowned. Compare that in 2004, when there were 63 deaths in that category. More information and numbers specific to California are available on the State Department of Health’s Web site.

In the back yard pool drowning cases we have handled, the pool owner has been held liable to the family of the drowning victim in every case. Pool owners, be warned. If a child or even an adult, downs in your pool, more likely then not, you will be held financially responsible.

Of course, that’s no reason to rejoice. We still lost 63 precious lives. The key to preventing these deaths lies in continued education, awareness and remaining vigilant at all times around children.
The Orange County Fire Authority is holding a workshop for county residents on how to prevent these tragedies. This workshop will be held May 24 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Blue Buoy Swim School, 1702 Nisson Road in Tustin.

Meanwhile, here are some tips from Safe Kids U.S.A, a nonprofit dedicated to child safety:

Never leave a young child unsupervised in or around water, even for a moment.

Never allow children to swim without adult supervision.

Always designate a responsible adult to serve as the “water watcher” – a supervisor whose sole responsibility is to constantly observe children in or near the water. Reviewed Unintentional Drownings by Primary Supervisor at Time of Drowning

Supervisors should maintain continuous visual and auditory contact with children in or near the water, and should stay in close proximity (waterside) so that they can effectively intervene if an emergency situation should arise.
Supervisors should not engage in distracting behaviors such as talking on the phone, preparing a meal or reading.
Supervisors should keep children who cannot swim within arm’s reach at all times.

While there is no specific recommended ratio of supervisors to child swimmers, the number of supervisors should increase when many children are swimming, younger or inexperienced swimmers are present, or the swimming area is large.