MAJ. JASON C. DANCY
371st Sustainment Brigade
Ohio Army National Guard
Her name was Allison Dutton — a sweet, brown-haired 2-year-old with her whole life ahead of her. My friend and co-worker, Calvin, handed me Allison’s lifeless body just after pulling her from an above-ground pool. We immediately began CPR and I attached the automated external defibrillator, a portable device that sends an electric shock to restore a normal heart rhythm, to her. But the machine said, “No shock advised. Continue CPR.” When the paramedics arrived, they continued life-saving efforts. Sadly, it was too late.
After leaving the scene, I drove around the city in a daze. I couldn’t get the images of Allison out of my head. I kept thinking, “Had I been doing CPR for a child correctly?” After what seemed like only a few moments (but was actually more than an hour), I found myself at my front door. I then went inside and held my son. That was one of the lowest days of my career. As a police officer, I encountered many terrible things. But until that day, nothing I’d ever seen had rocked me to my core.
In the days, weeks and months following Allison’s death, I couldn’t stop thinking about how I could prevent a similar accident from occurring in the future. My wife, Jill, and I enrolled both of our sons — Jackson, 2, and Nathaniel, 8 months — into a program called Infant Swimming Resource, a self-rescue program for children. ISR is designed to teach infants and toddlers to tread water and get to the side in the event they fall in to a pool. If they can’t get to the side, the program teaches them to float on their backs.
That summer, Jill and I were on a mission. We were determined to give our boys the skills they needed to prevent them from become a drowning casualty. For the next two months, we attended the ISR swim lessons twice a week. The class culminated with a test, after which children who pass are certified to survive in the water.
Without a doubt, this class was time well spent. After all, drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death in children ages 1 through 4. In fact, an average of 14 children die from drowning every Fourth of July weekend. Local ordinances, state laws and post policies provide a framework for how a pool is constructed and the minimum safety requirements. Unfortunately, swim training isn’t required for young children, and accidental drowning deaths continue to occur.
Little Allison’s death changed me. I didn’t look at some situations the same ever again. A few years later, I responded to a call the same neighborhood where Allison drowned. A 4-year-old boy had knocked on the caller’s door. She reported that she attempted to find out where the child lived, but he would not talk and she was new to the neighborhood.
A short time later I reunited the boy with his absent-minded grandmother. I then cited her for child endangerment and notified child protective services, which is the policy when someone is charged. Once again, Allison was on my mind.
As I left the grandmother’s house, I had mixed feelings. I wondered if I’d done the right thing by citing her. I began making excuses for her as I thought about the times my boys had wandered off. My second-guessing stopped when I noticed an above-ground swimming pool just a few doors down the street. There was no fence surrounding the pool and the owners were not at home. The pool ladder was also attached and unlocked. I threw the ladder into the pool and left my business card on the homeowner’s door with a message for him to call me. I did this two more times to other pools in the neighborhood before leaving the area. I realized that boy’s family was extremely lucky.
So what’s the moral of my story? If you have small children, or are related to someone that does, learn infant/toddler CPR. Get certified and save a life. If the child wanders a lot, and most do, conduct a safety assessment of your neighborhood and find out pool locations. Is the yard fenced? Is the ladder locked when not in use? If it is an in-ground pool, does it have a safety cover? Speak to your neighbors and let them know your concerns in a non-threatening way.
It’s also a good idea to go online to pool safety resources. I’ve found that https://www.poolsafely.gov
has some excellent material to help keep your family safe. I would also recommend the Infant Swimming Resource class. On their homepage at https://www.infantswim.com
, you can enter your zip code to find local survival swim instructors near you. Whatever course of action you choose, just do something. No one should have to go through the heartache of losing a child to a preventable accident.