Las Vegas Sun

January 23, 2018

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Toddler’s harrowing brush with death highlights need for swimming pool precautions

Pool accident

Henderson Police officer Erich Tschirgi was the first to respond to a home Sunday where an 18-month-old girl, dripping wet and stained by her own vomit, lay lifeless on the dining room floor.

“People were in a panic,” said the 42-year-old officer.

Onlookers' cries mixed with the sounds of barking dogs as the grandmother attempted CPR and the girl’s father stood soaking wet nearby, Tschirgi said.

Around 12:30 p.m. that day the girl had fallen into the family’s unfenced backyard pool, police said.

The family had opened the sliding glass door and closed the screen door, which the girl managed to open without being seen, police said. The adults who noticed her absence began searching and found her submerged in the pool.

When Henderson dispatch received the 911 call, officers and paramedics rushed to the home in the 900 block of Buffalo River Avenue, near Magic Way and Boulder Highway, police said. Tschirgi had been patrolling about a mile away from the home and was the first to arrive.

Once inside, Tschirgi started giving instructions, directing the grandmother to breathe into the girl’s mouth and asking someone else to wipe up the puddle of water around the little girl as he began chest compressions on her small body.

“You can’t do too much because she’s fragile,” he said.

Tschirgi used his fingers to press against the girl’s chest to revive her. In about five minutes the girl was breathing again.

“She was making noises enough to let us know she was with us,” he said.

Paramedics had arrived to stabilize the girl and take her to St. Rose Dominican Hospitals - Siena Campus. The toddler is still at the hospital recovering, police said.

Tschirgi doesn’t remember all of the day's details, but he does remember the family’s reaction to the rescue.

“They were ecstatic, elated,” he said. “The father grabbed me.”

Tschirgi then followed the paramedic vehicle that took the girl to the hospital.

“They didn’t know how long she was underwater,” he said. “My focus was on her condition.”

Tschirgi, a Henderson officer of four years, doesn’t boast about his act of heroism and said any Henderson Police officer would have done the same.

“I just feel lucky I was as close to the house as I was,” he said.

Tschirgi said taking precautions like having a fence around the pool could have prevented the near drowning of the little girl.

“It takes only seconds for a child to drown,” said Sandra Baker, an assistant fire chief of the Clark County Fire Department.

“Make sure an adult is there to watch the pool,” said Baker, who sits on the board of the Southern Nevada Child Drowning Prevention Coalition.

Baker suggests people follow the ABCDs of pool safety: adult supervision, barriers, classes and devices.

Baker said having safety flotation devices, alarms on doors leading to the pool, and fences with latches children can’t reach can prevent a child from drowning. Adults are also encouraged to learn CPR and enroll their children in swimming classes.

Baker said there is an increase of swimming pool emergencies when the weather warms up.

“In the summer months people are doing things outside,” she said. “The children are playing quite a bit more outside.”

So far this year 10 children 14 years old and younger have nearly drowned, Baker said. In 2011 there were 37 submersions, five of those resulted in the child dying. Those incidents include submersions in bathtubs and other bodies of water, not just swimming pools.

“It only takes an inch of water for certain children to drown,” she said.

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