When the Phoenix Fire Department realized that one-third of the city’s drowning victims had Hispanic surnames, they decided to take action.

The focus of their efforts was Maryvale, a west Phoenix community that suffered one of the highest child-drowning rates in the nation.

The result is an annual program targeted to Hispanics called Fiesta del Agua. The daylong event is held each May and includes an open swim, bilingual water safety information, a live helicopter rescue demonstration, singing and entertainment. This year, more than 3,000 people attended.

Since the programs were unveiled, incidents of child drownings have dropped from six in 2000 to zero this past summer. Near-drownings fell from highs of 17 in 2000 to eight in 2005.

The group also has found support among the Spanish-language media. “They’ve realized it’s something they can help the community with,” says Capt. Jay Arthur of the fire department, who’s also a member of the Phoenix Water Safety Task Force. “For Hispanics, it’s gospel to listen to the radio stations and Spanish-language shows, and we get tons of calls after they put out our [phone] number. Things are definitely improving.”


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