The footage on the home security camera captures the horror that visited an Anaheim family on Thanksgiving Day 2017.
A little boy crouches down to retrieve a toy from the deep end of his family’s backyard pool, and then falls headfirst into the water.
Several minutes pass before the boy’s father jumps fully clothed into the pool to retrieve the limp body of his son, 3.
The boy’s mother frantically begins chest compressions until a crew from Anaheim Fire & Rescue Station No. 11 arrives.
When paramedics get to him, the boy has no pulse and isn’t breathing.
Every day in the U.S., about 10 people die from unintentional drowning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of these, two are children aged 14 or younger. Drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury death in the United States, according to the CDC.
Last year in Orange County, 36 people died by drowning – 17 in pools, according to the Orange County Sheriff’ Department Coroner Division Annual Report.
Orange County averages three drowning deaths per year in the newborn-to-5 age group, according to statistics from the O.C. Coroner. Last year there were five, including two 1-year-olds, two 2-year-olds and one 5-year-old. Three were girls.
Those profoundly sad and preventable tragedies are one of the reasons public safety agencies like Anaheim Fire & Rescue make big pushes each year, typically during the warmer months, to educate the public about the importance of keeping an eye on kids while they swim.
In early July this year, AFR launched a new program to encourage a culture of water watchers, distributing bright-red kits to adults at community pools.
Still, in mere seconds, a family’s world can shatter.
For several days, the Tran family’s did.
Father David Tran recalls an usually hot Thanksgiving last year.
Although four adults were watching the pool, his son’s fall escaped their attention until his older brother noticed something at the bottom of the deep end, and realized it was his brother.
After David Tran pulled his son from the pool, wife Grace Tran then began performing CPR on her son as a party guest called 911.
As he recently recounted the horrifying accident, David Tran spoke softly. He struggled to find the words to describe what was going on in his head at the time.
“We were panicking,” he says. “It was a nightmare.”
AF&R Capt. Paramedic Robert Aguilar and his crew on Engine 11 arrived and took over CPR duties. Also on the call that day was Engineer Paramedic Alex Mistuloff.
Mistuloff said the boy had no pulse and wasn’t breathing when they tended to him at the pool, but once in the ambulance, medics were able to get his heart beating.
The boy was transferred to CHOC Children’s in Orange from an Anaheim hospital. His family and other loved ones, including a large circle of fellow Christians from the Trans’ church, kept vigil bedside and prayed.
Miraculously, he eventually regained consciousness and, after eight days at CHOC, was sent home with no serious brain damage, despite being under water long past what is considered the maximum threshold – six minutes – before people die or suffer irreversible brain damage.
He’s fine today, although he is slow to speak, David Tran says.
On the one-year anniversary of the near drowning, the boy and his father visited Station 11, on Friday, Nov. 23.
Mistuloff greeted the boy, who showed up wearing a fire chief costume.
Even since the accident, the boy has taken a keen interest in firefighters, dressing up as one this past Halloween.
“Hey big guy? How you doing?” Mistuloff said.
The boy looked at him shyly.
“You ready to come to work? You look like it!” Care Ambulance EMT Kyle Adamson told him.
“If you can find the keys, you can drive,” AF&R Engineer, Alex Hale told the boy before plopping him behind the wheel of Engine 11.
His face lit up with wonder after Hale turned on the flashing lights and the siren.
David Tran expressed his gratitude to the firefighters.
“Thank you for your commitment to serving the community,” Tran told them. “You sacrifice a lot by working on holidays and being away from your families.”
The firefighters said that’s what they signed up for, and expressed their happiness at the boy’s full recovery.
One of them said it’s a miracle he survived without serious injuries.
Gathered in front of Anaheim Fire & Rescue Engine 11 during a thank you visit are, from left, Capt. Gerald George, Battalion Chief Thomas Roche, Capt. Justin Balint, Engineer Paramedic Alex Mistuloff, David Tran, Daniel Tran, Engineer Paramedic Alex Hale, Firefighter Paramedic Alex Pinel, EMT Kyle Adamson, and EMT Gabriel Cerda.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge