On a steamy May day, Riley Braden, then 5, was swimming at a Destin, Florida, hotel pool with a neighbor. Nearby, a vacationing couple was enjoying the warm weather with their two girls, one around 18 months, the other an older toddler.
As Riley played in the shallow end, she watched the 18-month-old amble over to the pool steps near her. "Then, as soon as I turned away -- bloop! -- she fell in," she says. Riley, a strong swimmer, thought about shouting for help but realized she had to act fast. "There was no lifeguard, and the girl's parents were lounging by the side of the pool with their clothes on," she recalls. So she dove down about three feet and retrieved the child from the pool's bottom. "When I brought her up, I shouted, 'I've got the baby! I've got the baby!'" Riley says.
The girl's parents jumped up from their chairs and came running. The toddler had only been underwater for a few seconds and -- though coughing and crying -- was fine. After thanking Riley, the couple returned to their hotel room with their kids. She never saw them again.
How did Riley manage to stay so composed? "She'd been taking swimming lessons since she was 2, so she feels very confident in the water," says her mom, Jaime Braden, a nurse practitioner. "Plus, her father and I are former search-and-rescue divers, so the idea of saving someone from drowning is very familiar to her."
For her brave act of heroism, Riley received the Girl Scouts Lifesaving Award. In addition, she was also given an eight-inch golden key to the city in a special ceremony. It instantly became her most prized possession. "She slept with it for two days -- and she wouldn't let anybody touch it for weeks," Jaime says.
Now a first-grader, Riley already knows what she wants to be when she grows up: "A lifeguard!"
Life-Saving Tip: Teach the right way to assist a struggling swimmer.
Instruct your child to first shout for help; if she's 5 or older, she can take action -- as long as it won't put her in danger. Demonstrate how to help a person in the water by staying on the pool deck and extending your reach with an object like a foam noodle or a pole.
Kenneth Riggins and his daughter, Angelica, then 5 years old, had fallen asleep on the couch in their Tulsa house when he was awakened around 2 a.m. by their dogs -- and the smell of smoke. He followed the trail to a small room adjacent to a back bedroom. "I opened the door, and a backdraft of fire came in the doorway," says Riggins, a substitute elementary-school teacher and single dad. After pushing the door shut, he ran to the living room and woke up Angelica, shouting at her to get out quickly.
The kindergartner, who had recently attended a demonstration at her school led by Sparkles the Fire Safety Dog, knew exactly what to do. "The smoke was everywhere, so I crawled under it and out of the house, just like Sparkles taught me," Angelica says. "I was really scared, but I moved as fast as I could." She ran straight to the home of a neighbor, who called 911. When the fire department arrived a few minutes later, Angelica told them she hadn't seen her dad and that he might still be in the house.
She was right. After exiting, Riggins had returned with a flashlight from his truck to look for a friend's 5-year-old girl who had been staying with them. "I was so confused from all the smoke that I forgot her mom had picked her up earlier," he says. Firefighters found Riggins unconscious in the living room. As they carried him out the front door, the back of the house erupted in flames. (An investigation concluded that some faulty electrical wiring in the ceiling had caused the fire.) Riggins spent the next week in the hospital, suffering from smoke inhalation and minor burns, but he's made a complete recovery. "If Angelica hadn't run to our neighbors for help, I wouldn't have made it," Riggins says.
Since the fire, Angelica and her dad have moved -- to a home across the street from their old one.
Life-Saving Tip: Have a fire evacuation plan.
Locate two escape routes from every room and an outdoor meeting place. Stage a fire drill twice a year. Set off the smoke alarm for your child, explaining that it means "Get out!" Teach him to touch the door to the room with the back of his hand if there is a fire. If it's hot, he should escape through a window; if it's cool, he can open it and crawl to the nearest exit.
While watching TV one winter evening with her three young sons -- Micah, then 4, Matthias, then 3, and Moses, then just 11 months -- Linsey Knerl, a home-schooling mom from Tekamah, Nebraska, decided to look up a recipe for dinner. She went into the kitchen to flip through a cookbook but had barely turned a page before her eldest son popped in. "Mom, Baby Moses needs help," Micah said firmly.
Knerl figured her 11-month-old might have pushed his bottle under the couch or wanted a plaything from the toy box -- no big deal. After all, she could hear that Moses wasn't crying. "I said, 'Okay, just a minute,'" she recalls. But seconds later, Micah returned. "No, Mom, I really think Moses needs help," he insisted, grabbing her hand and pulling her toward the living room.
She was shocked to find Moses standing on his tiptoes, leaning against the back of the sofa, with a window-blind cord wrapped tightly around his neck. His face was a reddish-purple color, his eyes were bloodshot, and he didn't appear to be breathing. "I started screaming and crying, and so did his brothers," Knerl recalls.
She quickly but carefully removed the cord from her baby's neck, then speed-dialed her pediatrician's office. After listening to her description, the doctor told her that Moses was okay: Despite the ligature marks on his neck, he was crying and drinking from his sippy cup -- both signs that he was actually doing fine.
Knerl immediately got rid of the window blinds, a safety hazard for young kids that she hadn't been aware of. And she pledged never to leave her kids unattended, even for a second, until they're much older. "Thank goodness Micah came to get me so quickly," she says. "He saved Moses's life!"
If it weren't for Micah's persistence, his mom might not have found little Moses in time.
Life-Saving Tip: Avoid cord hazards.
You can't teach a baby or a toddler to stay away from strangulation dangers, so eliminate this risk by getting cordless shades or blinds. If that's not possible, cut the loop into two strands and use a cord winder (a plastic gadget that moves the cord out of the way) or a hook to keep them out of reach. You can order a free retrofit cord-repair kit at windowcoverings.org.
Jailyn Emmett, of Saratoga Springs, Utah, had just gotten off the phone with her husband, Tyson -- stationed hundreds of miles away at Army Reserve basic training -- when she felt her heart racing. The mom, who was at home with her two kids, Tregan, then 5, and Lincoln, then 15 months, suffers from supraventricular tachycardia, a heart-rhythm disorder. "I couldn't control it, which I had been able to do in the past with a deep-breathing technique," she says. Sensing she was having a severe episode, Emmett, who was six months pregnant, called her parents, who live nearby. No one answered, so she dialed 911. That's the last thing she remembers.
When she awoke in an ambulance en route to the hospital, the paramedics explained what had happened: After she collapsed on her bedroom floor, Tregan took the phone from her and calmly told the emergency operator, "My mom just died." As the dispatcher spoke with Tregan -- who identified himself as "Spider-Man" and "Peter Parker" rather than giving her his real name -- she sent emergency personnel to the Emmett residence. But since the family had recently moved to a new subdivision, the screen displayed the wrong address, and the ambulance went to a different home just a few doors down.
Fortunately, Tregan stayed on the line. At the dispatcher's urging, he opened their front door and flashed the outside lights until paramedics finally found the right house. During the confusion, Lincoln toddled outside unsupervised. Noticing that he was missing, Tregan informed a policeman who had arrived on the scene. After a brief search, the officer found the toddler in a neighbor's backyard, playing with a puppy.
EMT personnel were amazed by the poise Tregan showed throughout the ordeal. Still, he admits, "It was scary to find my mom like that." Emmett noticed that Tregan was unusually clingy when she got home from the hospital. So she took both her boys and moved in with her parents until her third child, a boy she named McCade, was born. Soon after, she had surgery to resolve her arrhythmia. Today she's healthy, and she still calls Tregan her "little superhero."
Life-Saving Tip: Practice dialing 911.
Once your child is 4 or 5, define what an emergency is, so he knows not to phone the numbers as a game. Then try role-playing: "Mom hit her head and won't wake up. What should you do?" Have him press the numbers on a toy phone, then rehearse a call. Teach him to answer the operator's questions and not hang up until she says to. Then post the number in an easy-to-see area by the phone.