Drowning has no season: Improving water safety in Florida

Reporter: Peter Fleischer
Published: Updated:

Whether in a pool or the ocean, Florida children lose their lives in the water more than anywhere else in the country.

Water fatalities can happen in many ways, many of which are preventable.

According to the Department of Children and Families, Florida ranks no. 1 in the country for water fatalities in children, with 93 in 2022.

For Paul Demello, the danger hits close to home.

” It’s the worst call that anybody can get is to hear that their kids are dead,” Demello admits. “That powerlessness just rocked me.”

Demello’s tragedy hit in January 2010 when he lost his twin boys, Joshua and Christian after they broke through a baby gate and fell into their grandparent’s pool. It’s a loss that will never leave him.

“To have that taken from me in the blink of an eye just devastated me,” Demello confesses.

But he turned that devastation into action, founding the Just Against Children Drowning Foundation.

Now the largest water safety group in Southwest Florida, Demello promotes water safety for kids of all ages.

“The people I worry about the most are the ones that don’t think it’s gonna happen to them,” Demello says.

“Anybody can drown in just a couple inches of water,” safety expert Jim Hagen confirms.

Hagen is a disaster preparedness manager with the Red Cross. He’s worked in water safety for more than 40 years.

Hagen agrees awareness is the most important part of water safety. Teaching swim lessons early and learning CPR as a parent can be life-saving skills.

“They make a huge difference,” Hagen says. “Many disasters, many emergencies, they are predictable and preventable if people take the time.”

Water fatalities in kids can happen in any body of water, but the most dangerous place is a simple residential pool. Pool fences prevent anyone from falling in and locked doors can prevent pool access.

“I just don’t want anybody else to experience that kind of pain, to ever go through any of that,” Demello explains.

“A simple fence can stop a real tragedy from happening,” Hagen adds. “Fencing is a great idea. It’s a simple step, and it’s super effective.”

As pool and beach season gets closer, Demello will continue to spread awareness.

Besides having the most child water fatalities in the country, the CDC says Florida also ranks fourth in child drowning rate. No matter what time of year it is, or what body of water is nearby, the message remains.

“Every day I pick it up. Every day. There isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not trying to create some kind of awareness,” Demello admits. “I miss my boys… I also feel like they’re kinda working from heaven and gave me a job.”

Red Cross online safety and prevention courses

Red Cross Adult and Children Swimming Lessons

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