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Pool safety requires constant vigilance

By Orlando Sentinel

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Ten years ago Jerry Pitzer sat by his backyard pool with a friend. Five of his kids were perched on the pool steps. His best baby sitter, a Dalmatian named Patch, stood guard.

But no one saw 3-year-old Cassandra fall into the pool and sink to the bottom.

Last week, 52-year-old Pitzer, now a water-safety instructor at Community Based Care of Central Florida, shared the story of his daughter's drowning at a news conference.

Pitzer -- along with representatives from several Orange County (Fla.) departments and The Gift of Swimming, a program that provides swimming lessons for underprivileged children -- spoke about water safety and drowning prevention.

Last year, 228 children age 12 or younger drowned in Florida, more than any other state.

We're wiping out the equivalent of several classrooms of kids each year in Florida, said Dr. Kevin Sherin, director of the Orange County Department of Health.

In 2012, 1,000 children drowned across the country and another 5,000 suffered injuries from a near-drowning experience.

In Orange County, drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 4. So far this year, Orange County Fire Rescue has responded to 12 drowning calls for those younger than 18.

With 67,000 registered backyard pools and 2,000 public pools in the county, pool safety is everyone's responsibility, Sherin said.

When Pitzer didn't see his young daughter in the house, he frantically checked her usual hiding spots. Nothing.

Then he went outside and scanned the surface of the backyard pool. Finally, he saw her at the bottom.

His final piece of advice for the audience was chilling.

"Drowning children don't float," Pitzer said.

He recommended these prevention tips during the news conference:

  • A guardian should be designated to watch children in the water at all times. Blowing a whistle helps alert others of a child drowning and to call 911.
  • An alarm that can be placed on the exit of the home or in the pool alerts parents if a child steps outside or falls into the pool.
  • Follow the 4-4-4 rule: Install fences on all four sides of the pool, making sure they are 4 feet high with slats separated by 4 inches.
  • Cover spas and Jacuzzis.
  • Lock sliding doors and screen doors.
  • Orange County Fire Chief Otto Drozd said supervision and barriers are key to drowning prevention, and offered additional tips:

  • If a child gets away, first search all waterways such as pools, bathtubs and backyard lakes and ponds.
  • If the child is found, do not hesitate; call 911. The dispatcher will give directions for administering CPR.
  • Susan Polder, the executive director for The Gift of Swimming, went over precautionary steps for parents:

  • Do not encourage breath-holding competitions among kids.
  • No roughhousing in the pool or around the pool deck.
  • Keep a cellphone or landline nearby the pool in case of an emergency to call 911.
  • Learn CPR.
  • Enroll your child in swimming lessons. All children 9 months and older should be able to float in water. Children should know how to swim even when fully clothed.

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