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Officials: Swimming lessons and water safety are key to prevention

By Staff | Apr 25, 2009

Derek Cooley, 4, will know how to swim by the end of this summer.
Father Fred Cooley, a Fort Myers firefighter who lives in the Cape with Derek, his 10-year-old daughter Nikki and wife Karen, knows how quickly a child can slip into the water and potentially become a drowning victim.
That’s why Cooley is determined to have Derek doggie-paddling before Cape Coral says farewell to the summer sun.
“He uses floaties now, and it’s time he needs to get out of them,” Cooley said of his son. “We’re always in the back yard somewhere near the pool, and I can’t always keep an eye on him.”
The Cooleys live near a canal, enjoy swimming in pools, at the beach or at Sun Splash Family Waterpark, and often go boating and camping near waterways.
“We’re around the water all the time,” Cooley said. “Whether it be the pool or the boat, if he falls in, basically he should be able to bring himself up and bring himself out and not be scared of the water.”
Cooley taught his daughter Nikki to swim when she was about the same age as Derek is now. But even though the entire Cooley family will soon be able to claim themselves water mammals, Cooley recognizes the importance of watching over his youngsters.
“You have to have supervision,” he said. “He knows that he can’t go in unless either with us out there or with his sister out there, and even at her age I like to be out there with them.”
According to information released by Lee County Public Safety spokesperson Diane Holm, “drowning is the second-leading cause of injury (and) death for children under age 15, and the leading cause of death for children ages 1-5 in Florida.”
The information also states that, “Most pre-school age drownings occur in the backyard swimming pool. Seventy-five percent of children who drown were last seen by their parents within five minutes of the incident.”
Because of the increased possibility of water-related injuries or death around this time of year, termed by many as “drowning season,” the Lee County Red Cross has partnered with various Lee County swimming locales to host classes from certified instructors, emphasizing water safety while incorporating new techniques and biomechanics from USA Diving and USA Swimming. The program also provides lifeguard training.
“That’s absolutely fantastic, especially for the kids that don’t have pools or wouldn’t be subjected to the water that often,” Cooley said when told about the swimming classes. “If I didn’t have the opportunity I’d make sure that (Derek) got the skills from a program like that.”
“The main emphasis is on water safety and drowning prevention as a basis for swimming and water recreation,” said Lee County Health and Safety Coordinator Karen Prohaska. “We also do parent and child aquatics, preschool aquatics and six levels of learn-to-swim that introduces anybody whatever age to water all the way through to diving techniques and lifeguarding.”
Classes are held at various locations, including the Florida Gulf Coast University Aquatic Center, the Lee County YMCA, Sanibel Island Recreation Department and Lee County Parks and Recreation Department.
Additional information on the locations are available by visiting www.arclcc.org/training/lifeguard.htm and following the links to each.
Classes provide a plethora of information about subjects such as water parks, home pool safety, boat safety, recreational water illnesses and sun safety, among others.
“I think that anybody taking swimming lessons, at every step of the way during those lessons, that they are learning ways to keep themselves and others safe in and around water, including at home as well as recreational areas and at the beach,” Prohaska said.
With hundreds of miles of canalways and other water bodies in Cape Coral coupled with the inherent dangers of the drowning season, the Cape Coral Fire Department emphasizes steps residents can take at home to keep young children safe.
“It starts now because with spring break and the holidays and Easter and Passover, there’s a lot of families that come down from up north to see their grandparents,” said CCFD Public Education Specialist Dave Webster.
Those families often have children that are unaccustomed to having a pool, and grandparents who are unaccustomed to supervising small children in their homes, Webster said.
“It’s a new experience for them, but it’s also a new hazard for them as well,” he said. “(Parents’ and Grandparents’) vigilance is the absolute best insurance against anybody getting into trouble with the water. The No. 1 thing is adult supervision at all times.”
There are additional safety steps pool owners can take, including four-sided fencing, door and window alarms and keeping pool toys away from the water when not in use.
Also, “Everybody in the family needs to know CPR,” Webster said. “It’s a great responsibility when you have a water feature in your back yard.”
For a free complete residential pool inspection by professionals with the Cape Coral Fire Department, families can call 242-3303.
Though it isn’t only their own pools families have to think about there are a number of foreclosed homes with abandoned pools in Cape Coral–the city’s Code Enforcement workers are doing what they can to keep those pools fenced off and make sure they aren’t a hazard to children.
But Code Enforcement has limited resources, and citizens can help by reporting abandoned pools or pools that aren’t being cared for in their neighborhoods, Webster said.
“Neighbors should be calling the city and calling Code Enforcement not because they’re going to get people in trouble, but to keep people from trouble,” he said. “They may be saving the life of a child in their neighborhood by making that phone call.”
Webster stressed that swimming lessons are ultimately essential to the water safety of children.
“I don’t think it’s ever too early to expose them to water safety,” he said. “Ultimately, every parent should see that their children learn how to swim and continue taking classes.”