Keeping children safe as people return to public pools

Reporter: Michael Hudak Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:
Kids jumping into a public pool. Credit: WINK News

As summer heats up, you might head to the pool, but now that we are able to be around more people and pandemic restrictions are easing, that pool trip can increase the chances of a child drowning.

Port Charlotte resident Paul Demello lost his 13-month-old twin boys in a drowning accident.

“My twin boys, Josh and Christian,” Demello said. “And I got a phone call that they were found face-down in a backyard swimming pool in January of 2010.”

Since then, he has made it his life mission to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen to anyone else’s loved ones. Demello founded Just Against Kids Drowning, a nonprofit that builds pool fences and provides swimming lessons for kids.

This year is different from others in terms of pool safety: Since January, more than 4,000 people have moved to Southwest Florida. Some of them may never have owned a pool before and might not know the protocol. And because we are working our way out of a pandemic, more people will be outside and more children will be by bodies of water, so it’s important for all of us to know the simple steps to pool safety.

“The fence should be 4 feet high, you know, 4 to 5 feet high,” Demello said. “You should have a self-closing, self-latching gate on it… your screen doors… for the cage, you know, the locks should be up nice and high. So kids outside can’t get at it. I believe that there was a fence at [his sons’] grandparents’ house. When Josh and Christian got to the pool, they’d be alive today.”

In 2019, Florida ranked as the second deadliest state for kids. In 2021, we’re already the deadliest state so far, with 49 drowning deaths since January. May, alone, had 14, and eight out of 10 drownings in a pool rather than at the beach or a lake.

Demello suggests having someone fill the role of “water watcher” at your poolside gatherings.

“You know, at the barbecue or the birthday party or the Fourth of July party,” Demello said. “A very special day turns into a very tragic day real quick. Because what happens is everybody thinks that they’re watching the kids and nobody’s watching the kids. So, it’s good to have that one person, the watcher watcher, that one person that watches the kids for 10 to 15 minutes, and then just pass that on to the next person.”

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