Anaheim Fire & Rescue distributes ‘water watcher’ kits to curb child drownings


With summer in full swing, personnel from Anaheim Fire & Rescue are hitting community swimming pools in an effort to curb one of the most preventable of tragedies:

Child drownings.

In a new program launched in early July, they’re distributing bright-red “water watcher” kits to adults to make water safety as second nature as putting on sunscreen.

“We’re trying to encourage a culture of water watchers where adults commit themselves to watching children in the water,” said Elsa Covarrubias, community engagement manager for AF&R.

AF&R Fire Marshal Allen Hogue hands out a water watcher kit to a resident of the Friendly Village mobile home park in Anaheim. The kits are an effort to prevent child drownings.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

On Monday, July 30, Covarrubias and AF&R Fire Marshal Allen Hogue visited a mobile home community. They also stopped by a pool supply business and visited AF&R Station 9 in Anaheim Hills.

The water watcher kits are available to the public for free at all AF&R fire stations, as well as at fire department headquarters.

Each kit contains a whistle, sunglasses (emphasizing the importance of keeping your eyes on the water), a lanyard with a “Water Watcher” tag, and a CPR instructions card.

AF&R water watcher kits encourage designated adult water watchers to keep their eyes on children to prevent drownings.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“This is all about community risk reduction, a side of the fire department the public doesn’t always see,” Covarrubias said.

Every day in the U.S., about 10 people die from unintentional drownings. Of these, two are children aged 14 or younger.

So far this year in Orange County, six children have died in drownings. Two of the incidents happened outside O.C., but the children were brought to O.C. hospitals and died, according to the O.C. Coroner’s Office.

AF&R Fire Marshal Allen Hogue hands out sunglasses to kids on their way to the community pool at the Friendly Village mobile home park in Anaheim on July 30.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Those heartbreaking incidents:

On Feb. 4, a 2-year-old boy died after slipping into a pool at his house in Corona.

On. Feb. 14, a 1-year-old boy died at a pool at a home in Laguna Hills.

On June 9, a 1-year-old girl died at a pool at a home in Coto de Caza.

On July 6, a 4-year-old boy died at a pool at a home in Irvine.

On July 9, a 7-year-old boy died at a pool at a home in La Habra Heights.

“We’re doing what we can to proactively prevent (such tragedies),” said Covarrubias, who came up with the idea for the kits. She ordered 700 of them and began handing them out July 2.

The long-term goal is to partner with hotels in the Anaheim Resort District to target vacationing families. Last year, there was a cluster of calls about near-drownings at resort-area hotels.

Mathew Luna, 5, left, and his brother, Sergio, 9, wear their new AF&R sunglasses as they pose with Fire Marshal Allen Hogue.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Covarrubias is not sure what that possible program may look like, but next week she will start meeting with hotel personnel to see what kind of ideas they come up with.

Through the month of August, Hogue and Covarrubias also are stopping by at Anaheim libraries for water safety-themed story time and at local public pools to talk to families whose children are taking swimming lesson.

Every year, the Orange County Drowning Prevention Task Force launches a new drowning prevention campaign.

And AF&R, along with other fire service agencies, places stickers on rigs each summer.

AF&R’s read:

Never Swim Alone.

The water watcher kits are an attempt to up the game when it comes to water safety.

“I want to get people pumped about this,” Covarrubias said.

It was 96 degrees around 4 p.m. Monday when Covarrubias and Hogue pulled up to the Friendly Village mobile home park at 5815 La Palma Ave.

Elsa Covarrubias, community engagement manager at AF&R, talks to Jilian Moss, store manager at Leslie’s Pool Supplies in Anaheim Hills, about educating customers on the dangers of drowning before handing Moss an AF&R water watcher kit.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Just before they headed to the pool with the kits, resident Karla Munoz pulled up with her 4-year-old in the back car seat.

Covarrubias explained to Munoz why they were there, and handed her a flyer in Spanish that detailed water safety tips.

“Thank you, this is a great program,” said Munoz, who also has a 10-year-old and a 6 ½-year-old.

There were four adults in the pool and a 13-year-old boy who assured Covarrubias and Hogue that he never swims alone.

Hogue distributed some kits and asked the adults if they knew CPR.

“I’m certified,” said Ashley Lara. “I’m the pool monitor.”

Hogue gave Lara a water watcher kit.

“Oh, a whistle,” Lara said. “That’s so cool.”

Added Lara: “I think this is a really good idea.”

Covarrubias and Hogue then dropped off some kits and flyers at Leslie’s Pool Supplies on Imperial Highway.

“Smart — that’s awesome,” store manager Jilian Moss said. “A lot of customers would be interested in these.”

Covarrubias and Hogue recommend that at every pool, multiple adults serve as Water Watchers in 15-minute shifts.

Hogue grew up around the water, and his children served as junior lifeguards and lifeguards.

He knows all about water safety.

Once, while on vacation, he saved some teens at Lake Mohave who had fallen off a raft. He grabbed the raft and swam out to them.

He stressed the importance of adults taking seriously their role as water watchers.

“You’re watching the water,” Hogue said. “That doesn’t mean you’re talking on your phone or texting.”

Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Anaheim Fire & Rescue Water Safety Tips

Water safety around the house: Install a four-sided pool fence that completely separates the pool area from the house and yards. The fence should be at least 54 inches high. Use self-closing and self-latching gates that open outward with latches that are out of reach of children. Pools should have fences, alarms and drains that meet regulations.

Water safety with young children: It only takes seconds to drown, and young children can drown in less than two inches of water, including the bathtub, sink, the toilet bowl, fountains, buckets, and baby pools. Never leave children unattended around water.

Water safety while in the pool: Never swim alone. Make sure safety equipment around the pool like buoys, poles, or ropes are easily accessible. Ensure that pool drains are properly covered and instruct swimmers to stay away from them because they can be life threatening.

Water safety through a Water Watcher culture: Always watch children around water. Ensuring a designated adult Water Watcher around water should be second nature, just like applying sunscreen. Drowning is a preventable tragedy. Drowning prevention starts with you.

Local CPR classes: Anaheim Community Services offers CPR classes through their Activity Guide. For more information, call 714-765-5191.

Local swimming lessons: Anaheim Community Services offers swimming lessons through their Activity Guide. For more information, call 714-765-5191.