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Near-drowning triggers increased safety measures at YMCA summer camps

| Friday, July 12, 2013, 11:33 p.m.
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YMCA staffers show the color-coded wristbands that swimmers in the summer camps must wear.

Youngsters who swim at YMCA summer camps must wear wristbands color-coded to their skill level under a policy prompted by the near-drowning of a child last month, officials said.

The YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh implemented rules on Monday that also seek to reduce the size of groups of children at play in the water.

In addition to improving safety, the measures will allow more interaction between campers and counselors, said Todd Brinkman, district vice president of camping services.

“And that's been a priority of our camps always,” he said.

On June 13, a 6-year-old boy and other children in a YMCA summer camp at Carson Middle School in McCandless were using the outdoor pool at Baierl Family YMCA in Franklin Park. Lifeguards said the boy “did not appear to be conscious or breathing at the time that he was rescued from the pool,” the state Department of Public Welfare said in a June 21 report.

Lifeguards turned the boy's head to the side, allowing him to cough up water and clear his airway, said Brinkman, who said the child did not have to be resuscitated.

The Welfare Department found that a camp employee was unable to locate another child for about two minutes on June 20 at the pool. It ordered the middle school's camp to be closed.

Child care staff were not assigned to supervise specific children, according to the report, which found “gross incompetence, negligence and misconduct in operating a facility likely to constitute an immediate and serious danger to the life or health of the children in care.”

The YMCA leases the space in the school from North Allegheny School District, Brinkman said. That camp location will not reopen this summer, he said.

The YMCA has worked to strengthen its pool safety for at least a year, but the Baierl YMCA incident hastened the process, Brinkman said.

“We decided to make it universal across the board for (the new rules),” he said.

The policy breaks swimmers into smaller groups — five children to each counselor, as opposed to 15 children with three counselors, he said.

Children will wear wristbands that denote their swimming skills: red for nonswimmers, yellow for middle-level swimmers and green for advanced swimmers.

The YMCA fired several counselors at the middle school camp and will randomly check staffers to see if they can identify and locate campers without help.

The YMCA agreed to suspend its camp swimming programs until it investigated all of the sites, Welfare spokeswoman Anne Bale said.

Most of the swimming programs have been reinstated, and the rest likely will be within days, Brinkman said.

Last year, about 2,000 children participated in YMCA summer camps, he said.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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