Experts offer tips for pool safety after toddler drowns in St. Johns County

By Ashley Harding, General assignment reporter, aharding@wjxt.com
Published On: Aug 08 2014 04:07:50 PM EDT
Updated On: Aug 08 2014 07:11:10 PM EDT

VIDEO: Tips for keeping your children safe when playing around pools.

HASTINGS, Fla. -

Thursday's tragic drowning of a 22-month-old boy in the Flagler Estates neighborhood in Hastings has many thinking about pool safety.

A neighbor told News4Jax that the child followed his older siblings out the front door and made it around the pool, where he was later found.

Child safety experts said in order to prevent another tragedy, parents need to be aware and prepared.

Florida law requires at least one safety measure, which can include a safety fence, a pool cover, an alarm or a door with a lock.

Experts said these safety measures need to be in place for all pools, including above-ground pools.

St. Johns County deputies said it took just 10 minutes for the toddler to make his way out of the family home and into the backyard pool, where he drowned a short time later. There was no fencing around the above-ground pool where it happened.

"Drowning is the No. 1 killer of children between the ages of 1 to 4 in the state of Florida,” said Cynthia Dennis of Safe Kids Northeast Florida.

Cynthia Dennis said Florida leads the nation in drowning deaths among children. She said too often, parents underestimate what their little ones can do.

"They like to mimic older people,” Cynthia Dennis said. “So they see you going out the door and leading into the pool and jumping in the pool, then that's what they want to do as well."

With that in mind, experts said a physical barrier is the best way to go. Rick Dennis (no relation to Cynthia Dennis) installs pool safety fences for a living. Florida law requires fences be at least 4-feet tall with a self-latching gate, around an in-ground pool.

"A little child, even if they could reach up, they can't just push it up and unlock it,” Rick Dennis said. “You actually have to squeeze together, pull this back and bring it off. Then once you do, the fence is removable, you can bring it down."

Another way to keep little ones from getting into the pool unsupervised is to invest in a pool alarm. One version, sold at Home Depot, goes for about $30 and can be installed at either a door or gate. It gives off a loud alarm, which you need a code to shut off.

Safety experts also recommend that pool owners replace their old drain cover with a newer dome-shaped cover. It can prevent kids from getting caught underwater.

"The dome shape helps to lessen the suction that can attract hair or jewelry or something like that,” Cynthia Dennis said.

Above all, experts want parents to remember that drowning is preventable.

"Supervision, barriers, and really are just very vigilant about it," Cynthia Dennis said. "That's the main thing."

Officials with the Department of Children and Families also recommend that parents never allow kids to be near water unsupervised. They also recommend that parents learn CPR and enroll their children in swimming lessons.

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