Turning Tragedy Into Action

Don't assume your child's safe if you don't have a pool: Babies can drown in a few inches of water.

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On May 8, 1996, San Diego County paramedic Paul Maxwell responded to a drowning incident involving a toddler who had wandered away from a day-care center and fell into an unfenced swimming pool next door. Nicholas Rosecrans died 12 hours later. He was 2 years old.

Even for paramedics accustomed to dealing with tragedy, the death or serious injury of a child can be an extremely emotional event. Such was the case for Maxwell, who vowed after Nicholas' death to find a way to reduce the number of preventable childhood deaths. He began working with the San Diego Safe Kids Coalition, and together they helped pass California Assembly Bill 3305, which requires barriers around all new-pool construction sites statewide. Shortly afterward, he and fellow paramedic Josh Krimston formed the group EPIC Medics (Eliminate Preventable Injuries of Children).

Today, EPIC is involved in more initiatives than some would think possible for an organization that is run by volunteers and operates on a shoestring budget. It provides safety education for parents, and members serve on official inquiry boards to review childhood deaths countywide, hand out free bike helmets to kids, operate a miniature "safety city" that teaches children traffic safety and even oversee a national award (named in honor of Nicholas) that recognizes innovative injury-prevention programs created by emergency medical services personnel.

EPIC members also frequently participate in car-seat safety checks for parents--and they almost always find problems. "We see everything from improper placement of the child in the seat to improper angles to failing to tighten the belts properly," says Krimston. "We've even found people who attach their car seats with wooden two-by-fours." He says one of the most commonly overlooked car-safety risks is driving with items inside the car that can become projectiles in a crash, such as tools, sporting gear and even groceries.

Another piece of potentially life-saving advice: Keep balloons away from babies and children. "People think they're cute and harmless, but when a balloon pops, it can turn into a projectile that goes into a child's mouth and blocks the trachea," Krimston says. Worse, he adds, a balloon fragment is much more difficult to remove with the Heimlich maneuver than a solid object, such as a peanut.

For EPIC, as with any such program, it's hard to measure success, because there are no data on how many children aren't injured in a car crash, or how many toddlers don't drown because there's a fence around a pool. But there's little doubt in our minds that the world is a safer place for children because of groups like EPIC Medics. Says Maxwell, "Our tagline is: 'Transforming tragedy into action.'"

Editor's note: Visit epicmedics.org for the full story about the organization, along with information to help your local firefighters and paramedics start a childhood injury-prevention program in your community. For more ways to safeguard your baby, see "Danger Zones".