A Stew Leonard’s Lesson in Pool Safety

The familiar voice of Stew Leonard comes on the radio on 880 AM in New York City.  Listeners expect the owner of the iconic Stew Leonard’s chain of seven supermarkets in Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey to say something clever about Thanksgiving turkeys or Fourth of July specials. Instead, he offers a very moving, chilling, very personal public service announcement about the death of his almost 2-year-old son in a drowning accident 31 years ago.  It goes something like this: “I thought my son was with her and she thought he was with me and by the time we connected and just minutes passed, we looked down the bottom of the pool and there he was.”

This tragedy sparked the Leonard parents to pledge that they would do everything in their power to prevent this tragedy from striking other families, since drowning is the leading cause of accidental death in children under five. In 1990, Kim and Stew Leonard, founded the Stew Leonard III Water Safety Foundation in memory of their son. Since this time, the Foundation has raised more than $2 million dollars to go towards water safety awareness and education, including lifeguard training and providing 10,000 free or low-cost swimming lessons to children every year.  https://stewietheduck.org/new-index.

Yesterday, I posted “https://howardblas.com/2020/06/09/the-summer-of-the-above-ground-pool/.  I was commenting on the number of families scrambling to find and install pools so their children will have something to this summer.  Two friends, both educators (early childhood and special education) commented when I posted the article on Facebook:

“It worries me to see these. I fear that people are buying them without installing the proper fences and alarms to prevent a neighbor child falling in and drowning. With an in ground pool, you would always take the necessary precautions, but with these, people are just buying them on Amazon without the fence.”

“We just put one up, our town has specific codes about above ground pools and fences. If it’s over a certain height you don’t need a fence but the stairs need to be removable or able to lock. I was nervous about setting it up without the proper electrical hookup and grounding so we have an electrician come out but I have watched so many friends run extension cords and that scares me!”

To prepare for a safe summer, consult the 20-page booklet “Safety Barrier Guidelines for Residential Pools,” published by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC):


Also, “7 Rules for Having a Pool in Your Backyard:”  https://www.araglegal.com/individuals/learning-center/topics/home-and-property/pool-safety-tips-if-you-have-a-backyard-pool.  Rules, curtesy of ARAG (legal insurance), include:

1.  Install pool barriers

2.  Install anti-entrapment safety drain covers.

3.  Supervise children closely.

4.  Learn to swim.

5.  Prepare for emergencies by:

-Making sure everyone in your home takes water safety, first aid and CPR courses.

-Keeping rescue equipment by the pool, easily accessible and in good condition — such as life rings, floats or a reaching pole.

-Having a phone poolside with emergency numbers posted. Also post your address for the benefit of guests, babysitters or even your young children who might not have your address memorized.

-Sharing safety instructions and pool rules with family, friends, babysitters and neighbors.


6.  Institute pool rules

-Don’t go in or near the pool without an adult.

-No pushing.

-No running.

-No diving.

-If someone is in trouble, get help quick.

-Use the bathroom, not the pool!


7.  Know the legal risks of pool ownership


The authors report, “Every year, nearly 300 children under the age of five drown in swimming pools, making it the leading cause of accidental death for children in that age range. And 87 percent of those fatalities occur in backyard pools. In addition to drowning fatalities, more than 4,000 kids under five suffer non-fatal drowning injuries that require a visit to the E.R.” 

PLEASE take some time to carefully read these two articles.  And thank you to the Leonard Family for sharing your personal story of tragedy, to help prevent such tragedies for others.  Have a fun, safe summer!

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