It’s the same scenario repeated over and over throughout Houston every summer: fire engines and ambulances racing to an apartment complex where a child drowned with no lifeguard on site.

Between May 2005 and May 2007, the Houston Fire Department responded to 50 emergency calls for drowning. Sixty percent of those occurred at apartments.

The Houston Apartment Association, of which about 90 percent of apartment communities — or 1,800 properties — are members, decided enough was enough. This year, it stepped up its efforts to curb drowning on its properties with the Apartment SPLASH program.

For the past seven years, the HAA bussed children to YMCAs and community pools through its Water Wise program, says Aimee Bertrand, public affairs specialist for the HAA. It helped, but not enough.

According to survey findings by the Texas Children’s Hospital, Houston parents lagged behind the rest of the nation in child safety. For example, only 58 percent of Houston parents knew that a child can drown in as little as 2 inches of water, compared with 68 percent of parents nationwide. So the HAA realized more was needed.

Through a joint partnership with the YMCA of Greater Houston, Texas Children’s Hospital and the HAA, the Apartment SPLASH program sends certified lifeguards and swim instructors to the property for a week of training. For $600 paid by the apartment manager, they teach children and families about basic swimming skills and safe water practices in aquatic environments where families may visit: public and apartment pools, backyard pools, boats, beaches and waterparks. The program also provides literature and posted billboards in English and Spanish, since both were the most widely used languages in the Houston area.

Since lifeguards are not required at Houston apartments, and few employ any, the HAA decided to get parents actively involved in their children’s safety.

“There’s no better person to look out for your children than the parent or person responsible for the child,” Bertrand says. “We want to encourage parents … to take that responsibility very seriously and keep a close eye on their kids, just as you would [with] a pool in your backyard.”


Swim at Your Own Risk

In today’s litigious environment, that warning is a double-edged sword for patrons who risk drowning and owners who risk liability. Are lifeguards worth the extra cost to avoid both? Experts on each side of the issue weigh in.