Safety Comes First at D.C. Pools

DPR Offers Swim Classes

6/12/2013, 3 p.m.
Trisha Dunlap could hardly wait for this year's Memorial Day weekend, when the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation opened ...
The District opened the majority of its pools over the Memorial Day weekend. (Courtesy Photo)

Trisha Dunlap could hardly wait for this year’s Memorial Day weekend, when the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) opened most of its aquatic facilities in the District of Columbia.

For the Ward 8 resident, it meant an opportunity to take a few laps in the indoor swimming pool at the Deanwood Aquatic Center in Northeast, one of the city’s newest amenities.

“The water here is so therapeutic and it’s relaxing,” said Dunlap, 44, who worked out in the pool from 8:45 a.m. until noon. Dunlap, who has a 12-year-old son at Hart Middle School in Southeast, said she plans to bring him to the pool during the summer, but safety is always at the forefront of her mind.

“With water safety, you have to start with the parent,” said Dunlap, who’s studying medical administration at the University of the District of Columbia in Northwest. “The lifeguard is there to do a job, but as a parent, you have to be responsible.”

That’s the message the DPR director hopes will resonate with all parents.

“Even before children come to the pool, parents need to ensure they teach the kids how to swim,” said DPR director, Jesús Aguirre. DPR oversees the District’s 40 aquatic features, which includes pools and spray parks. The District agency also oversees recreational facilities, parklands, playgrounds, play courts and athletic fields.

“Once at the pool, it’s critical for parents to know not to take their eyes off [of] their children in the pool, and that [the children] can be within reach,” he said. “The majority of drowning deaths are young kids.”

A recent report by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission revealed that children younger than age 5 represented more than 75 percent of all pool and spa drowning deaths between 2008 and 2010, and 78 percent of pool and spa-related injuries in the United States involved children younger than age 15 between 2010 and 2012.

African-American children between the ages of 5 and 19 are six times more likely to drown in pools than white and Hispanic children that age, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the nation’s health promotion, prevention and preparedness agency. Data from USA Swimming, the national governing body for competitive swimming, indicated that 70 percent of black children and 62 percent of Hispanic children cannot swim, making them more likely to drown.

This month marks the third anniversary of the drowning death of six-year-old Yiana-Michelle Ballard at DPR’s Turkey Thicket Aquatic Center in Northeast.

Yet, during the hottest months of the summer, groups of residents converge upon the District’s pools, and Aguirre can’t emphasize enough the importance of adhering to pool regulations.

“People need to understand the rules are there for a reason,” said Aguirre. “The lifeguards are there for a reason, they’re not baby sitters.” He cited instances of parents who believe that the lifeguards will watch their children, or where lifeguards become distracted by teens in street clothing loitering on the pool decks.

“Sometimes we have to close the pool down to clean it,” he said, adding that some residents become annoyed with the DPR staff about rules they must enforce for safety reasons.