Osceola County sees serious spike in drowning incidents, officials say

OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. — Osceola County is seeing a worrisome trend this year with a rise in drowning and “near drowning” calls.

Signs about swimming safety are being put up all over the county.

“It’s a problem,” said Osceola Fire Rescue Lt. John Szlezak. “We started to go to one drowning after another, after another, day after day after day, and it started in January.”

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This year, Osceola County Fire and emergency medical services have responded to 67 drowning calls. During the same time in 2019, they were called out to 25 drowning calls; that is a 168% increase.

“Unfortunately, our station has had are over half of those calls,” Szlezak said.

Station 71 is on the west side of Osceola County and is known as the Four Corners area. It’s where Lake, Polk, Orange and Osceola counties meet.

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“It’s a mostly vacation community,” Szlezak added. “Mostly timeshares and Airbnb rentals. Almost all of them are people here on vacation.”

This poses a problem because sharing swimming safety with people who aren’t locals can be difficult.

To help mitigate the situation, officials have come up with the door hangers they’ve been putting on vacation homes and the road message boards.

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So far this year, all but two of Osceola’s drowning calls were children. Their ages have ranged from 7 months to 15 years old.

“To see such a significant increase over the past couple months, really has people focusing on that and what we can do to prevent that,” said Dr. Jenna Wheeler of Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital For Children.

Wheeler said because of the pandemic, children may have missed classes and refresher lessons before being around a pool again.

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“It’s really important that that those kids have that knowledge,” Wheeler said. “It’s just really right now trying to get across those three things, the ABCs.”

A is adult supervision.

“Always make sure there’s an adult who’s responsible for the kid,” Wheeler added.

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B is barriers - like a gate around the pool.

C is classes, and not just swim classes for children, but CPR lessons for adults that will really help in the event of a drowning.

“We see a lot where that CPR in that first initial minute really did make a difference,” Wheeler stated.

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