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Paramedics Frustrated by Drowning Rate

HOUSTON -- The scene has become all too common in Houston - paramedics struggling to restore life to a small child pulled from a local swimming pool while relatives look on, helpless and frantic.

Jonathan Hernandez, 3, died late Monday after he apparently fell unnoticed into a swimming pool at a southwest Houston apartment complex. The little boy was found lying on the bottom of the murky pool.

"There's something profoundly not right about holding a lifeless child," said Houston Fire Department Capt. Matt White. "It just tells you there was some kind of lapse in supervision."

White has worked 10 juvenile drowning cases during his 12-year career with HFD. Of those, only two survived.

"It's definitely frustrating," White said. "It's disappointing when the point is brought up again and again every summer."

Even with frequent public awareness campaigns blanketing the airwaves and child swimming programs offered by several different agencies, the number of drownings among children this year has surpassed the total for all of 2007.

"You start asking, 'Are we doing it right? Are we getting the right message across? Are we scaring the parents enough about the seriousness of this?' " White said.

Jonathan was the 24th child to drown in Houston this year. Last year, 22 children drowned.

"It's been a dangerous summer for children," said Estella Olguin, with Child Protective Services.

A child drowning can occur in any part of the city and cross racial, ethnic and economic boundaries. The common denominator is a lack of adult supervision, officials said.

Merely being at the scene isn't enough, White said.

"Too many people get supervision confused with adult presence," he said. "It has to be 'eyes on' all the time."

Parents sometimes believe they will be alerted to a drowning by hearing a cry for help or splashing.

"I don't think they know it's silent and quick," White said. "You're not going to hear anything."

While paramedics may not publicly accuse parents of not providing adequate supervision of their children, at times it lurks in the back of their minds, White said.

When paramedics attempt to revive someone, one of the first questions they ask is how long the person has been under water.

"We have to try and find out how long this kid has been deprived of oxygen," White said. "More often than not, the answer is unknown. Nobody knows."

"It seemed like it was a second to them, but we know that can't be the truth," White said. "If it was just a second, the kid wouldn't be dead."

White has been at the scene of child drownings where fights have broken out between adults claiming that others were responsible for watching the victim.

Fredderick White's apartment looks out over the pool where Jonathan drowned. He said searchers were forced to use a flashlight to locate the boy's body.

"It gets really dark in that pool at night. You can't see anything," said White, who is not related to the captain.

A sign alerts swimmers that no lifeguard is on duty and warns that children shouldn't use the pool without adult supervision.

"That's not even my child, but it's a hurting feeling," White said. "He didn't even get a chance to live his life."

...

YEARLY DEATHS

Child drownings in the Houston area:

2008: 24 (as of Monday)

2007: 22

2006: 27

2005: 23

Source: CPS

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