A pool fence would have saved Joshua and Christian DeMello.
In January 2010, the 13-month-old twins drowned when they escaped from their grandparents’ house and fell into an unsecured pool.
There were no alarms or fences. Their mother found them in the pool.
“Today, I believe in multiple layers of prevention,” says their father, Paul DeMello, who founded Just Against Children Drowning, a nonprofit to spread awareness about drowning and prevention measures. “The more layers you have, the fewer chances something could happen. I really believe my kids would still be alive today if a fence would have been up.”
Fences can really slow a child down, he says.
Each year in the United States, drowning is the fifth leading cause of unintentional injury death of all ages, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Before a pool build, water-safety education must be a priority, says Jon Krawczyk, owner of Superior Pools of Southwest Florida. Before tragedy strikes, pool builders should suggest to homeowners equipment barriers like fences and alarms. In some cases, it’s the law.
Krawczyk’s employees begin the customer education process during property surveys. As they do a walk through, customers are asked if they have kids. If so, appropriate safety measures like high fences, battery-powered alarms, sliding door locks and in-pool alarms are mentioned.
Florida law mandates that all pools, hot tubs and spas have at least one safety feature. Krawczyk implemented a policy where all his clients are required to sign a safety agreement that indicates which safety equipment the customer will use, and he says he would do this even if it wasn’t mandated. If a potential customer won’t sign his company’s safety agreement, Krawczyk’s company declines the job.
“To me, there’s no foolproof device out there though,” Krawczyk says, who has a 4-year-old son and a pool at his home. “Supervision is the number one key.”
Even though his son “swims like a fish,” Krawczyk has a pool fence, and he tells customers that while it may “ugly up” the aesthetic factor, his child’s safety matters more.
If a customer doesn’t like Krawczyk’s built-in safety requirements for the bid, he lets them know they should find a different pool builder.
“I’m not going to take that risk with a life,” Krawczyk says.
Mario Rossetti, president of business management firm Rossetti Enterprises, LLC, and The University of Pools & Spas, shares this view. “Let your competition build the pool,” Rossetti says of homeowners who refuse to take the recommended safety measures.
But, Rossetti says, the messaging should not stop there: “Immediately after refusing the work, send an email and letter to the homeowners explaining your strong recommendations for the safety of their family, friends and neighbors as your reasons for refusing to build the pool,” Rossetti says. “File these documents in a safe place. You will likely need them later to avoid being pulled into a lawsuit [if a tragedy occurs].”
Rossetti says builders should automatically include some safety equipment in their bid. “We are the professionals — the experts,” he says. “Some safety features are mandated by various governmental agencies, like anti-vortex or dual main drains, etc. Every pool manufactured by professional pool builders should be constructed with safety in mind.”
DeMello believes the pool industry must be at the forefront of marketing the best safety equipment, particularly fences. “You can build luxury pools and still have the best safety features,” DeMello says. “I applaud anyone in the pool industry talking about this. It’s not about stopping the building of pools. It’s about educating.”
DeMello’s nonprofit donates Life Saver Pool Fences to families in the Department of Children and Families system who have experienced a drowning or near drowning on their property. JACD also has a pay-it-forward program to install pool fences, with all proceeds funding local community swim and CPR lessons.
It’s his way of giving back and honoring his boys, who would have turned 9 this year. While his story is always difficult to tell, he hopes the message is clear to pool experts and pool owners: It’s simple to prevent a tragedy like his own.
“It’s not really expensive to put up a fence,” DeMello says. “I wish there were a way to measure all the lives that have been saved by a fence.”