ST. LOUIS — Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death for kids between 1 and 4 years old.
Nationwide, it leads to thousands of deaths per year, and Missouri State Highway Patrol lists 13 drownings so far in 2019.
With the unofficial beginning of summer and swim-season around the corner, a group is coming together to bring that number down to zero.
A group of educators, safety experts and people who just really care about kids are trying to figure out how to tackle the issue at a special summit this week.
The St. Louis Roundtable is sponsored by the ZAC Foundation and hosted by the Boys and girls Clubs of St. Louis.
Participants include the police and fire departments, Gateway Region YMCA, the Red Cross of St. Louis, St. Louis County Emergency Management, SLPS and St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
The conversation will also include parents of children who’ve drowned. Nicholas McMullin died almost 40 years ago when he wandered into the pool.
Today, his mother Lisa takes every chance she gets to push for swim safety. She founded SWIM ON in his honor.
“We sort of came back into it with the passion of wanting to not have anyone else go through this, said McMullin.
Hanging in McMullin’s home is a sign that says, “If he had known how to float, he would have been visible."
It’s the kind of simple fix that she and other safety advocates said could prevent tragedies like these.
Swim classes, dedicated pool monitors, fences and barriers around pools, CPR and first aid knowledge: many of the advocates say it’s about making sure people are aware of the dangers of the water—pools, lakes, rivers, and creeks—and actively working to avoid them.
“I would love to see people be aware of drowning the way they’re aware of all sorts of other [dangers],” said McMullin.
“I think it’s a falsehood to think that all kids automatically learn how to swim,” said Dr. Flint Fowler of the Boys and Girls Club. “We sent kids to school to learn how to read and write, we take them on field trips, so they can be exposed to things and cultured, if you will. It’s the same thing with swimming. Children have to be taught how to swim. They have to learn the dangers of water and how to be safe.”
They have to learn the rules around swimming as well, he said, like not swimming alone, in unprotected areas, or when you’re tired.
“I think it’s a really big issue particularly in St. Louis, I think African American children for example are five and a half times more likely to be the victims of drowning than their white counterparts. It doesn’t mean that white children don’t drown—but they don’t drown as frequently because they have more access to swimming pools, they have more consistent instruction and that sort of thing,” he said.