Long Island Newsday, By Inez Tenenbaum

It's impossible to read about the tragic drowning deaths of 7-year-old Sharon Knowles and her 5-year-old brother Ralph last Sunday in a neighbor's backyard pool in Central Islip, without thinking about the grief that is being experienced by their family and friends. At a time like this, we wonder what could could have been done to prevent this tragedy, and how to prevent other families and friends from experiencing a similar, preventable loss of life.

During the four years I've served as chairman of the U.S Consumer Product Safety Commission, one of the most difficult parts of my job has been reading the stories and meeting the families of children who drowned. Sadly, these drownings happen all over the country and not just in the summertime.

Drowning prevention must take place year round. The Consumer Product Safety Commission established its Pool Safely campaign to educate parents and caregivers about adopting simple water safety steps. The Pool Safely campaign aims to reduce child drownings, near-drownings and drain entrapments in all pools--including those in schools, hotels and backyards. We advocate layers of protection, constant supervision of children in and around the water, making sure children learn how to swim, and installing safer drain covers.

In an effort to save lives, the Pool Safely campaign urges parents, children, pool owners, state and local governments, and safety organizations to:

  • Be a "water watcher". Stay close, be alert, and watch children in and around the pool. Never leave a child unattended in a pool and always watch your child when he or she is in or near water.
  • Learn and practice water safety skills. Teach your child how to swim and learn to perform CPR on children and adults.
  • Have the right equipment. Install a proper fence around the pool with appropriate gates and locks. 

Our campaign focuses on populations most at risk of drowning: children younger than 5, who represent 75 percent of child drowning fatalities on average; and African-American and Hispanic children between the ages of 5 and 14, who drown at higher rates than Caucasian children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African-American children drown at a rate nearly three times higher than their white peers. This disparity is unacceptable and must be addressed.

The best way to we can honor Sharon and Ralph Knowles and other child drowning victims is to practice safety steps: teach all children to swim, teach parents to be water watchers and ensure that all pools have proper fencing and other safety features. Though summer is still months away, our vigilance in ensuring that all children use the pool safely must start today, and last the whole year through.

Inez M. Tenenbaum is chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

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The Dragonfly Story

Excerpted from the eulogy at Abbey Taylor's Celebration of Life Service

Below the surface of a quiet pond lived a colony of water bugs. They were happy, living far from the sun. But they noticed that occasionally, a member of their colony would climb up a lily stalk and disappear from sight, never to return. Where do you suppose she went? wondered a water bug.

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Pool Safety Tips

  • Use the Water Watchdog System to make sure children are always closely supervised in the pool area.

  • Remind kids to stay away from pool and hot tub drains.

  • Never dive into water less than 9 feet deep.

  • Keep gates to the pool area latched.

More water safety tips