Drowning signs not always obvious

Potential victims often too exhausted to cry for help
Drowning signs not always obvious

In the heat of summer there’s really only one place kids want to be, and that’s in the pool.

But there are reasons for parents and public health officials to be worried as people enjoy pools and lakes at this time of year.

The risks inherent in swimming are being emphasized by some after a two-year-old boy died in a northern Wisconsin pool over the weekend.

Emily Welch, a lifeguard at the Middleton-Cross Plains Area Pool with six years of experience, wants to remind everyone of the signs of danger.

“Yeah, there are a lot of younger kids,” said Welch. “I feel like I’m constantly enforcing the rules.I do have to use the megaphone a lot.”

“Make sure kids aren’t running into the pool, diving into the shallow end,” Welch said of her most consistent worries.


While a Sunday shift at the pool was mostly filled with the sounds of kids and adults enjoying themselves, Welch did have to make one rescue while helping to prevent plenty of others.

Welch is trained to know the signs of distress.

And they aren’t always as easy to spot as someone yelling for help.

“They’re usually like waving their arms in the air and their eyes always get really really big,” relayed Welch of some danger signs of drowning.

“You can always tell when they’re bobbing up and down in the water and whenever they come up they’re looking around searching for somebody to help them. That’s the way I can always tell, is the eyes.”

Drowning deaths historically go up in the summer months, but the intensely hot weather may be putting even more people at risk as they flock to water for relief, some without swimming skills.

In Chicago, Reggie Banks wondered whether heat drove his 22-year-old nephew, a strong swimmer, into Lake Michigan on the Fourth of July. Mahlik Harris’ body was pulled from the water after he went missing while swimming. An autopsy is pending.

Experts at the American Red Cross say swimmers in distress often aren’t shouting, as they may have used up their energy trying to stay above water.

“A distressed swimmer can quickly turn into an active drowning victim,” said Bonnie Griswold, an aquatics specialist with the American Red Cross.

“They could be close to you where you don’t even notice they’re really in trouble,” said Griswold. “But in a group of a lot of swimmers, be careful. Watch for them.”

But some parents don’t recognize the signs of trouble.

Welch said that fact was obvious during a rescue earlier this summer.

“I just saw the child in distress and I didn’t even look around for where the parent was,” recalled Welch. “I just jumped in and by the time I got to them, they were like, ‘Oh, you’re saving my kid!'”

Everyone can and should watch for the most common signs of trouble.

They include swimmers creeping along the pool’s edge and those who are not able to touch the bottom of the pool.

The best advice could be just to be sure to cool off this summer at a place that has a lifeguard on duty.