Summer safety primer: West Valley cities, agencies offer programs, advice to keep residents safe

Lifeguards watch over swimming children May 31 at Surprise Aquatic Center, 15831 N. Bullard Ave. The city offers a variety of swim classes for children six months and older. [Jacob Stanek/Independent Newsmedia]

By Matt Roy, Philip Haldiman, Rusty Bradshaw, Roger Ball and Mark Carlisle,
Independent Newsmedia

With Memorial Day now a glimpse in the collective rear-view mirror, many West Valley residents are ready to enjoy – or dread – the coming summer months.

While opportunities abound to relish Arizona’s beauty and kvetch about the at-least-it’s-dry heat, the coming season poses some real threats, both to person and property.

Fortunately, local agencies and municipalities provide a wealth of programs and advice to foster safety, from swim lessons and resources to promote pool safety and avoid heat-related illness, to special patrols to watch the homes of those fortunate enough to flee the Valley until the cooler weather returns.

Pool safety

The official onset of the summer season brings higher drowning risks along with rising temperatures in the West Valley.

A four-year-old boy was found dead after possibly using a pool chair to get past a safety fence at his Peoria home last week, as was reported at (“4-year-old boy may have used chair in Peoria drowning,” Daily News-Sun, May 28, 2018).

This was only one of numerous tragic incidents already reported around the Valley this year, where drowning is cited by many agencies as the leading cause of death for children between the ages of one and four.

However, many drownings are preventable and the website offers a list of “top tips’ to help keep children safe around water.

Among their recommendations are:

  • Always supervise children around water, stay close and avoid distractions.
  • Keep tubs, buckets, containers and kiddie pools empty after use and store them upside down, so they don’t collect water.
  • Close toilet lids and use seat locks, while keeping doors to bathrooms and laundry rooms closed.
  • Home pools should have a pool fence at least four-feet tall surrounding all sides with self-closing, self-latching gates.
  • Learn CPR and basic water rescue skills.

Surprise Fire-Medical Chief Tom Abbott urges residents to stay vigilant and take special steps to prevent drownings anywhere children come into contact with water.

“Pool safety is of utmost importance,” stated Mr. Abbott. “Adults need to realize how quickly and quietly drownings can happen.”

At pool parties and other gatherings, families should assign at least one specifically designated person to act as a lifeguard, he added.

“While at the pool, a designated adult should be assigned to supervise the area. This means no texting, drinking alcohol, reading magazines, or having in-depth conversations with others,” Mr. Abbott stated. “The designated adult should be focused on the pool and paying close attention to everyone in and near the water.”

He said life-saving devices – a hook, pole or flotation devices – should be readily accessible and a phone should be kept nearby for emergency phone calls only.

A fence or approved barrier is required to separate the pool from the house. Large objects, such as bicycles, tables, or chairs, which an unattended child might use to climb over, should be stored away from the pool fence, Mr. Abbott added

The fire department will host chest compression only CPR classes 9-11 a.m. and 2-4 p.m. Wednesday, June 6 at the Surprise Public Safety Auditorium, 14250 W. Statler Plaza.

The classes are free and registration is required.

Call 623-222-5400 or email

Learn to swim

Many municipalities also provide free or cheap swim classes in the summer, with some offerings for students six months and older.

The city of Surprise hosts group and individual swim lessons at the Surprise Aquatic Center, 15831 N. Bullard Ave., and the Hollyhock Pool, 15808 N. Hollyhock St.

Surprise Community and Recreation Services Director Donna Miller also promotes swim classes to prevent drowning.

“Pools, water parks, splash pads and open bodies of water are a fun way to cool down in the summer, but they can also be extremely dangerous if you don’t know how to swim,” Ms. Miller stated. “Knowing how to swim is vital to being safe around water. That’s why we offer a range of classes for all ages and abilities.”

Morning and evening half-hour sessions run Monday-Thursday through August in the Star Tots swim lessons program for children six months to three years old.

A number of other swim lessons are available for all ages, from beginners to advanced swimmers.

Drop-in swim assessments are provided at the Surprise Aquatic Center 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday, noon-4 p.m. Fridays and noon-5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

Thanks to a donation from local firefighters, some classes will be offered free of charge this year, but parents should see lessons as just the first step in keeping their children safe around pools, according to Ms. Miller.

“Surprise Firefighter Charities has partnered with the city to offer select swim classes free of charge this summer. But, classes are only one part of the water safety equation. Constant adult supervision around water and being mindful to keep pool gates closed and locked are also key,” Ms. Miller said.

Contact the Surprise CRS office at 623-222-2000 or visit for more information.

The city of Peoria also offers group and individual lessons through August at three locations: Sunrise Pool, 21321 N. 86th Drive; Centennial Pool, 14388 N. 79th Ave.; and Peoria Pool, 11200 N. 83rd Ave.

Parent-and-child classes are available for would-be swimmers as young as six months old with 30-minute classes running over two weeks Monday-Thursday, as well as weekend sessions, which run 30-minutes on Saturdays and Sundays over four weeks.

Call 623-773-7137 for more information or register online at

Another option this year will be presented by Aqua Tots with what they are calling the “World’s Largest Swimming Lesson.”

The for-profit swim school will host the event 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday, June 21 at their Valley locations, including those in Surprise, 13833 W. Bell Road, Suite No. 104, and Peoria, 21505 N. 78th Ave., Suite B-115.

Swim instructors will teach structured swim water safety lessons in an indoor, heated pool to help build awareness and teach children how to be safer in and around the water, according a company press release (see more about this event in our Neighbors section in this week’s paper).

Heat exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is a common condition for people in Arizona, especially during the summertime, when air temperatures really start to rise.

Causes of heat exhaustion include exposure to high temperatures, particularly when combined with high humidity and strenuous physical activity, according to the Web MD website.

Without prompt treatment, heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke, a life-threatening condition.

Dr. Bill Mostow, M.D., a doctor at the Banner Del E. Webb emergency department, said the hospital sees a rise in heat-related illnesses during the summer months, but it can be prevented.

In general, it is difficult to avoid the extreme temperatures in Arizona, but Dr. Mostow recommends using common sense, hydrating regularly and staying out of the heat for extended periods of time.

He said symptoms may develop suddenly or over time. These include: cool, moist skin with goose bumps when in the heat; heavy sweating; faintness; dizziness; fatigue; weak rapid pulse; low blood pressure upon standing; muscle cramps; nausea; or headache.

Succumbing to exhaustion can happen quick, and it is not uncommon for heat illness to strike even those who are used to being outside. Dr. Mostow said nature offers a useful example for the humans sharing their desert.

“Phoenicians are pretty adapted to heat. But what we do see is that people ignore the advice given by our neighbors who have lived here longer than us – the snakes and scorpions,” Dr. Mostow said. “If you live here, you need to live like a desert animal – you need to crawl under a rock. You really should not be going outside.”

Follow the leaders

Local county and municipal agencies take steps to keep their workers safe during the summer and their approach provides another good example for anyone wanting to stay safe during the hot months.

Most government workers in the region maintain the same hours for the summer, except for transportation departments.

The Maricopa County Department of Transportation maintains streets in county areas across the Valley. Their roadway maintenance crews start work at 5 a.m. during the summer, while at other times they start at 6 a.m.

County officials offer special heat illness training classes and heat advisories, as well as employing a “buddy system” approach to help workers avoid injury, while many outside field trainings are preferably scheduled during the cooler months, according to MCDOT spokeswoman Nicole Moon.

The city of Surprise typically schedules more indoor classroom training during the summer months. These classes involve videos, presentations and computer studies, where employees can remain in air-conditioned rooms.

All agencies provide water and protective equipment and encourage their crews to use proper care and hydration, which is good advice for anyone pursuing outdoor activities in Arizona.

Homeless helpers

While Arizona’s hot summer days present health risks for everyone in the West Valley, they’re especially dangerous for those that don’t have homes to cool off in.

West Valley governments and nonprofits collect donations of water and other heat relief items to distribute to homeless people during dangerous summer days.

According to the Phoenix Rescue Mission, which runs Glendale’s Hope for Hunger Food Bank, 5605 N. 55th Ave., an average of 118 people die from excessive heat in Arizona each year.

Much of the distribution is done by nonprofit groups, but Glendale’s police officers and park rangers carry extra water with them in case they encounter someone who looks distressed.

“(The city’s role is) just to lend a hand, I think. If we see people who look like they might be in distress to properly hydrate them. You have to make sure that you’re giving people the right aid,” said Glendale’s homeless coordinator Rosalind Sleet.

Homeless people try to avoid the brunt of the heat by getting out of the sun during peak heat hours in the middle of the day, said Glendale’s community revitalization administrator Charyn Eirich-Palmisano. She said Glendale sees an increase of homeless in libraries during hot days.

“You’ll find them more in the shade, for sure,” Ms. Eirich-Palmisano said. “Their activity increases earlier in the morning and increases later in the evening when it does start to cool down, for them to be more mobile at those times.”

The Maricopa Association of Governments compiles information from Valley cities to create its Heat Relief Regional Network Map.

The map lists heat refuges, such as city libraries, where people can find heat relief in a cooled indoor space where water is provided; hydration stations, where people can receive bottled water and other heat relief items; emergency heat relief stations, which do the same but only during heat warnings by the National Weather Service; and collection sites, where governments accept donations.

In addition to bottled water, donation centers collect cash donations and collect sun block, hats, sunglasses, lip balm and lightweight, light-colored clothes. Glendale’s collection centers are at its fire stations and its fire resource management center, 7505 N. 55th Ave.

Donations can also be accepted at nonprofits that conduct homeless heat relief, such as the Phoenix Rescue Mission, A New Leaf, Community Bridges, Inc., UMOM or some local churches.

Vacation watch

Another summer hazard affects those who leave the Valley during the sunny season and year-round.

Residents who plan to be away from their homes for extended periods of time can take advantage of vacation watch programs offered throughout the Northwest Valley communities, including Surprise, Sun City West, Peoria and Sun City.

While these programs are available throughout the year, their heaviest use comes in the summer.

Homeowners may sign up at local posse or police departments in their respective communities to have their home included on lists for vacation watch patrols.

Registering also includes a signature form, which allows the patrolling agency to be on the property if necessary.

Sun City West Posse receives up to 4,000 requests for vacation patrols during the summer, according to Posse Commander Bob Carneiro.

In Peoria’s Westbrook Village, the posse conducts about 100 vacation watch visits per day, according to Posse Commander Sam McNutt.

“That’s not just 100 homes per day, as we can do multiple visits to homes on the list,” he explained.

Westbrook’s posse conducts three vacation watch patrols per day Monday-Saturday, Mr. McNutt explained.

Last year, the Sun City Posse conducted 20,321 vacation watch patrols during the summer months, which, like Westbrook Village, included multiple patrols at homes on their list.

Sun City West Posse converted their vacation watch to a digital format, creating a database that allows homeowners to register one time only then simply notify the posse when they will be away, according to Mr. Carneiro.

The only time residents will need to fill out a new registration card is if they are changing their information, he added.

The posse in Sun City is working toward a digital platform, but has not yet implemented the change, according to Roberta Lambin, Sun City Posse operations officer

“We may get there some day, but we are not at that point yet,” Ms. Lambin said.

The Sun City West Posse is the only one in the Northwest Valley affiliated still formally with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.

The Sun City Posse de-affiliated with MCSO in November last year and the Westbrook Posse de-affiliated two months ago.

Both agencies cut their affiliation with MCSO because training requirements were reducing numbers, but both continue to work with MCSO.

Municipal police departments in Surprise and Peoria have programs similar to those offered in the age-restricted communities.

In Peoria, homes will be patrolled for up to 30 days on the program, according to Jennifer Haehn, a police support assistant for the city of Peoria.

Civilian volunteers periodically stop and check homes in the Peoria program and they may walk around a home to check if there is anything unusual or if there is any apparent damage.

If any sign of forced entry or unexpected change is noted, a uniformed police officer will be contacted and an investigation will be conducted. Owners or their emergency contacts will also be contacted.

Surprise has 221 homes registered in its vacation watch program as of last week, which is typical, according to Timothy Klarkowski, a spokesman for Surprise Police Department.

“That number stays steady through the summer,” he stated.

To register with Vacation Watch in Peoria call 623-773-5058 or fill out a form at

In Surprise, call 623-222-4277 or visit

In Sun City West, walk in at posse headquarters, 20450 N. Stardust Blvd.; in Sun City, go to posse headquarters, 10861 W. Sunland Drive; or in Westbrook Village, visit posse headquarters, 18827 N. Country Club Parkway, Peoria.

Road hazards

State officials issued a warning to watch out for so-called “tire gators” as residents and visitors travel across Arizona’s roadways this summer.

Tire gator is the colorful nickname given to tread debris – pieces of car and truck tires, which sometimes litter highways and pose a real threat to motorists.

The Arizona Department of Transportation and Arizona Department of Public Safety issued a press release last week to highlight the threat, which is increased during the summer, when air and asphalt temperatures soar.

While DPS troopers regularly toss tire gators to the road shoulder or ADOT maintenance crews respond after getting a call, it’s impossible to catch everything immediately along more than 6,300 miles of state highways, according to the press release.

“We all need to pay attention and be prepared for debris at any time, but tire gators increase in number when the weather turns hot,” said Raul Amavisca, ADOT Central District engineering administrator for maintenance. “Our maintenance yard bins fill up with more rubber during the summer.”

Officials also recommend drivers regularly check their vehicles’ tire pressure to reduce the risk of blowouts, since maintaining proper tire pressure can limit the chances of creating a highway gator.

The agency’s freeway shoulder sweeping contractors also maintain weekly schedules for collecting larger debris items in advance of street sweepers finishing the clean-up job at night.


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