In a matter of seconds, it can all be over for a child.
A parent turns away to answer a phone or check who's knocking at the front door.
"The next thing you know, the kid is in the water," said Modesto Fire Battalion Chief Hugo Patino. "Kids are the most precious thing we have, and you just can't be vigilant enough when you have a swimming pool."
The U.S Consumer Product Safety Commission says the majority of drownings or near drownings in pools occurs during the five warmest months of the year.
This year, more than 200 children -- including a Ceres toddler this weekend -- have drowned or nearly drowned in the United States since Memorial Day, according to the commission.
In an effort to reduce these incidents, a national pool safety campaign is being launched to educate children and parents through an online game and video that will be released Friday.
The Pool Safely campaign offers a Web site that provides tips and more information about how drowning deaths and injuries among young children are preventable, said Kathleen Reilly, the commission's spokeswoman.
"We want to get people talking with their children about pool safety," Reilly said. "There are different ways to save lives."
The safety commission estimates nearly 300 children younger than 5 drown in pools and spas each year across the country. More than 3,200 children in the same age group go to hospital emergency rooms from near drownings.
Reilly said some of these hospitalizations result in permanent disability, including brain damage. She said fences with locked gates or safety alarms can make a big difference.
"It happens very fast," Reilly said. "It's not noisy. The water rushes fast into the child's mouth, so they can't cry for help."
It's a race against time when firefighters or other emergency responders arrive, Patino said. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation is immediately performed, but minutes without oxygen can have a lasting effect.
"We don't know how long the kid's been in the water; there could be brain damage," Patino said.
The safety commission also is educating families about the hidden dangers from drain or suction entrapments in pools and spas. Drains with broken, missing or faulty covers can trap hair, the body, limbs, jewelry and clothing, or even cause disembowelment.
Five-time Olympic medalist in swimming Janet Evans said the Pool Safely campaign offers simple steps everyone can take to protect children.
"As a parent of young children, I know there's no single, sure-fire way to ensure their safety around pools and spas," Evans said in a news release. "Whether it's enrolling them in swimming lessons or simply watching them at all times, there is always one more thing I can do."
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2394.