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Southwest Ambulance Helps Kids Learn to Swim


MESA, Ariz. -- 2,695 kids from nine Central Arizona communities received 21,657 free or reduced cost swim lessons in 2010 thanks to Southwest Ambulance’s Pool Pack Swim Lesson Program. The goal of the program is to reduce the number of child drowning incidents in Arizona. Communities participating in Pool Pack during 2010 were Mesa, Gilbert, Chandler, Florence, Casa Grande, Glendale, Peoria, Surprise, and Goodyear. The numbers were announced on October 1, 2010 at the Mesquite Groves Aquatic Center where swim lessons are available year-round.

“Responding to a child drowning is one of the most difficult calls for an ambulance crew because we know how preventable the incident could have been,” said Bryan Gibson, Executive Vice President and COO of Rural/Metro Corporation and Southwest Zone Vice President overseeing Southwest Ambulance. “Swim lessons dramatically reduce the risk of drowning, while the child is simply having a good time learning a life-saving skill. We estimate that nearly 30,000 children across Arizona have received free or reduced cost swim lessons since we began the Pool Pack Program in 2002 and we plan to continue growing that number each year.”

The problem:
Drowning is the second leading cause of death for children between ages of one and five. Southwest Ambulance knows this all too well as it responds to a high number of drowning related incidents brought on by the abundance of backyard swimming pools. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that for every child who drowns, four are hospitalized for near drowning. According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, 158 children in the Phoenix-Metropolitan area were hospitalized or seen in an emergency department for a nonfatal drowning in 2008 and 16 Phoenix area children died as a result of drowning or submersion. As of September 14, there have been 116 water related incidents resulting in 17 child deaths in Maricopa County so far during 2010.

About Pool Pack:
Back in 2002 on a day when two children drowned, Southwest Ambulance staff began brainstorming ideas of how to reduce the risk of drowning. Everyone at the table agreed that fire departments and other agencies across Arizona have done an excellent job educating parents on the water-related risks, the need for constant vigilance, and the need for fences around backyard pools. Therefore, Southwest Ambulance sought to do something different, but which would still compliment the efforts of its Fire Department partners.

One Southwest Ambulance employee suggested teaching every child to swim and within the hour, Southwest Ambulance’s Pool Pack Swim Lesson program was established. A testament the company’s long-standing belief in the program, an estimated 30,000 kids have received free or reduced cost swim lessons since 2002.

Since the program’s inception, Southwest Ambulance has donated more than $250,000 to local aquatics programs and Parks and Recreation departments, providing free or reduced cost swim lessons to Valley families. Individual requests for financial assistance and swim lesson details are handled directly by community parks and recreation departments. Each program is independently managed, offering varying levels of sponsorships for swim lessons based on community needs.

In addition to the actual swim lessons, Pool Pack provided an opportunity to use local news media to remind parents on the importance of water safety. Southwest Ambulance identified unique ways to keep Pool Pack stories visual, newsworthy, and spread out throughout the summer. For example, Southwest Ambulance employees were joined by lifeguards to walk door-to-door to homes surrounding a neighborhood pool in Glendale to educate parents that free lessons were available. n Mesa, two City Council members amused City residents by competing in a cannonball dive contest where the Mayor scored the winner. At each community pool, a Pool Pack banner was placed along its fence highlighting the swim lesson partnership between Southwest Ambulance and the City.

Pool Pack has not limited Southwest Ambulance’s participation in other water safety related efforts across the Valley. Southwest Ambulance has been proud to partner and participate in other programs such as Banner Hospitals’ Water Watcher programs, Phoenix Children’s Hospital’s Drowning Impact Awareness Month programs, a private sector swim lesson effort organized by Hubbard Swim Schools and Carl’s Jr. Restaurants, and dozens of other Fire Department and community organized water safety education programs and events.

In 2008, Southwest Ambulance also introduced Alex the Ambulance. A specially wrapped ambulance promoting water safety to children and parents featuring the Pool Pack logo and water safety tips over a blue water background. Alex is showcased year-round as a visual water safety reminder at several community events and show-and-tells each month.

Note: The total child and lesson numbers stated in this release are based on City provided estimates.


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