INVESTIGATORS: Drowning recognition and rescue - KMSP-TV

INVESTIGATORS: Drowning recognition and rescue

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A few weeks ago, the Fox 9 Investigators demonstrated what it is like to watch a child drown in plain sight -- and that campaign has already helped save a life by helping others recognize when a rescue is needed.


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INVESTIGATORS: Drowning is silent

MORE: Water safety tips


The story has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times online, and the Fox 9 e-mail inboxes are filled with stories about how it's helped change the way people look at water safety.

"We were all hanging out by the pool," Nicole Ahles explained.

In the midst of her Memorial Day pool party, Ahles spotted a quiet killer at work in her backyard.

"Everyone was having fun," she recalled. "I looked up and that is when I noticed her nose and mouth were not coming out."

One of her youngest guests, just 4 years old, was caught in its choking grip -- and she couldn't splash or breathe.

"I screamed, 'Get her! Get her!'" Ahles told the Fox 9 Investigators.

Her cries were heard, and others quickly helped pull the girl to safety.

"Her lips were a little purple and she was definitely in shock," Ahles remembered.

Recognizing the signs of drowning led to a speedy rescue -- one that everyone is capable of making if they know what to look for. As for Ahles, she says she only knew because she had watched the Fox 9 Investigators' demonstration just 3 days earlier.

The first-of-its-kind test involved longtime swim coach and instructor John Foss, who showed how silently a swimmer can slip away. Two skilled swimmers acted out a common drowning scenario in a busy swimming pool to see if any parents nearby would notice.

Not one person who spoke with the Fox 9 Investigators noticed the two lonely bobbing heads in the water. They didn't notice because they didn't know what they were looking for.

"There were many adults around the pool and some in the pool -- and her mom in a chair like 3 feet off the edge of the pool," Ahles explained. "She didn't know and thought probably the same thing I thought prior to watching the video -- that she would for sure know that a kid was drowning."

Since Ahles has a home with a pool, she watched the story so that she could feel safer with her own daughter, who is just learning to swim.

"If you don't watch the video, that doesn’t click in your head -- you don't take that extra half a second to look at their face, their facial expressions and see if their mouth is coming out and if they are getting air," Ahles said. "You think it is going to be more obvious."

The demonstration was so convincing that FOX 9 News made posters for people to hang at pools and beaches, and requests for them have come in from all over the country. Firefighters in Plymouth, Minn., said they're happy to be adding another tool to their water safety class.

"It was an excellent story on realizing how quickly someone can drown," Paul Larson said.

First responders there have seen 3 drownings in the last 4 years. The latest took the life of 16-year-old Benedict Richardson in April. He quietly slipped under the water in a swimming pool at an apartment complex with friends and family nearby.

That's why for the last year and the foreseeable future, firefighters plan to do everything they can to focus attention on recognizing the signs of drowning.

"Usually, when someone is drowning they will tilt their head up," Larson said. "When they do that, all the air goes out of their lungs."

Water training experts told the Fox 9 Investigators they are constantly fighting a wave of misperception.

"I am so excited to have these posters. Even my lifeguards are surprised," Pat Bennett, with District 196 Community Education, said. "They think there is so much splashing and calling for help."

Drowning is silent, and that's why Rosemount, Apple Valley and Eagan will put up Fox 9's posters at all pools in the district. The Robbinsdale School District also requested them.

The life-saving lesson has also taken on a life of its own via social media, with more than 100,000 shares on Facebook alone.

"After I saw the video, it really opened my eyes," Roy Quilliams, director of a county recreation department in central Georgia, said. "I have required that all my lifeguards watch the video and I have ordered the posters you can get at the end of the drowning video to display at our pool."

April Pruett, a mother from Arkansas, wrote to say she was "shocked" after seeing the story. Texas resident Jill Honeycutt also shared out the posters on her Facebook.

"If you want zero drownings, it's going to have to be a massive change in the idea of how drownings happen," Foss warned.

With so many beaches, pools and water parks opening for the season, the timing is perfect for the message to spread -- which is why the poster is available in two different ways. It can be downloaded here so users can print out any size that is convenient or send an e-mail to request a laminated 14x11-inch poster mailed to you.

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