Fourth of July Safety: Drowning Remains No. 1 Threat to Children
In the emergency room, drowning patients are seen the most frequently and drownings most often lead to fatal outcomes, said Corwin Warmink, M.D.
By Eline de Bruijn and Linda Diaz
The Fourth of July is a time for celebration and getting together with family and friends. Cook Children’s experts are sharing safety tips and information to remember as people gather this weekend. Keep in mind that drowning is the leading threat for children, especially during the Fourth of July holiday.
In the emergency room, drowning patients are seen the most frequently and drownings most often lead to fatal outcomes, said Corwin Warmink, M.D., medical director of Cook Children’s Emergency Department.
“Keep a close eye on your child any time there is water nearby,” Dr. Warmink said. “People are often in large groups and let down their guard thinking that someone else is watching the kids in or around the water. They should identify an official Water Watcher who is responsible for keeping track of everyone.”
In June 2022, there were 19 drownings treated at Cook Children’s, none were fatal. Seventeen of those children were 5 years old and under.
- In June 2021, there were 22 drownings, one was fatal.
- In June 2020, there were 8 drownings.
- In June 2019, there were 13 drownings.
- In June 2018, there were 16 drownings. Three were fatal.
While most patients survived these incidents, drowning injuries can result in severe effects, especially on a child’s brain development.
Many of the drownings so far in 2022 have occurred during unplanned swim time. This is when parents didn’t expect their child to be in or around the water.
Drownings can happen silently and quickly. A submerged person might not attract attention or appear to be in danger.
Drownings can occur even with many adults present. When there are children around water, always designate a Water Watcher, an adult who is in charge of watching all children without any distractions.
Drownings on July 3 and 4:
- 2018: one drowning on July 3 and two on July 4
- 2019: four drownings on July 3
- 2020: one drowning on July 4
- 2021: one drowning on July 3 and one drowning on July 4
None of these drownings listed above were fatal, but parents and caregivers must remain vigilant.
Parents can also put barriers in place to help prevent a child from accessing the water or make it more difficult to access when an adult is not present. Barriers – such as locks, alarms and fencing – can help keep unsupervised young children from getting into swimming pools.
There are other threats during the Fourth of July holiday that can lead to severe injuries.
“Boating, jet ski and watercraft accidents are very frequent and often very tragic injuries. Burns from fireworks and cookouts are also very common,” Dr. Warmink said. “Snake bites and other bites are also common because a lot of people are outdoors along with very severe sunburns and heat exhaustion.”
With the highs in the upper 90s and triple-digits, be sure to keep these heat safety tips in mind.
“Sunscreen is important and it should be reapplied every few hours. Drinking plenty of water and hydrating drinks throughout the day,” Dr. Warmink said.
Wear appropriate clothing: Choose lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothes. Wear a hat to shield yourself from the sun, until you feel yourself getting warm. Then remove any items covering your head that can trap heat close to the body.
Schedule outdoor activities carefully: Heatstroke can occur in less than an hour when you are participating in a strenuous activity on a hot day. Try to limit outdoor activity to when it’s coolest, like morning and evening hours. Rest often in shady areas so your child’s body has a chance to recover.
Hydrate: Drink plenty of water during the day, especially if you are engaged in any strenuous activity. Be sure to drink water or a sports drink before, during and after any strenuous activity.
Wear sunscreen: If you got outside, use sunscreen, wear a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses, and put on sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher 30 minutes before going outside. Continue to reapply according to the package directions.
Severe injuries from fireworks can be harmful and painful to a child. Even sparklers can heat up to more than 1,200 degrees and are dangerous for young children.
“Kids should not shoot off fireworks and they should be shot off in a ‘kid-free’ zone," Dr. Warmink said. "Keep kids away from grills and bonfires also.”
Though often thrilling for children, off-road motorized vehicles — including all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), ATV mules, go-karts, and even golf carts — can be extremely dangerous for them to ride, especially if they don’t use safety measures once they get on board.
To prevent such injuries among children, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends children under 16 do not drive or ride as passengers in two- and four-wheeled off-road vehicles.
- Always wear protective gear such as:
- o Helmet
- o Eye Protection
- o Boots, gloves, long pants, jacket
- Do not ride an ATV at night
- Take an ATV safety course
- Never ride on public roads
- Perform ATV safety checks
Lifeguard Your Child began in 2016 and continues its regional collaboration, led by Cook Children’s, to prevent drownings in North Texas. The campaign aligns consistent messages and educational goals across our region. Together with community partners across 11 counties, we work year-round to provide education, Water Watcher tags, swim lessons, life jackets and other prevention tools to families.
The Lifeguard Your Child campaign is spread through the Safe Kids North Texas Coalition, which is based in Fort Worth and led by Cook Children’s.
The campaign’s strategies include Cook Children’s Loaner Life Jacket Stations at many lake entry points across the region. Families can go to the stations to find U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets in a variety of sizes with easy tips for a proper fit.
Safety tips for home swimming pools:
- Assign a water watcher, aka an adult who will commit to 100% supervision of children in and around water.
- Restrict access by installing door locks high out of children’s reach. Door and window alarms can signal if someone leaves the house.
- Install four-sided fencing around pools with a self-latching gate that only opens out. The fence should be at least 4 feet (preferably 5 feet) high.
- Remove all toys and floats from the pool area so children are not tempted to get close to the water.
- For above-ground pools, make sure the ladder is removed and not accessible when it’s not swimming time.
- Consider a pool surface alarm to alert if anyone/anything falls into the water.
Safety tips for the bathtub:
- An adult must stay at the side of the tub in reach of the child.
- Pay attention. This is not the time for multitasking.
- Ignore distractions like the doorbell or phone calls.
- Drain the tub after each use.