(ran North edition of Pasco Times)
Barrett Joseph Brown Jr. relies on a feeding tube to eat. He hasn't been able to speak since he nearly drowned in a backyard pool in early December. The 17-month-old still can't move around very well.
But by all accounts, Barrett is one of the lucky ones.
"My son is a miracle," his mother, Jennifer Kloss, said. "He's making progress every day."
Another Spring Hill child, Arianna DeLeon, didn't make it. The 18-month-old girl, who fell into her family's swimming pool last Sunday, died at Spring Hill Regional Hospital.
DeLeon was the first child to drown in Hernando County in 2005. But she was the latest in a series of drownings and near drownings that has local paramedics scrambling to increase awareness about the dangers of Florida's backyard staple _ the swimming pool.
"I liken it to having a gun in your home," Spring Hill Fire Chief J.J. Morrison said. "We don't think about it as being that dangerous. But in our town, pools are killing more children than guns are."
The same can be said statewide and throughout the country. In Florida, unintentional drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 4. In 2002, 67 children in that age range drowned, according to the Florida Department of Health.
In 2002, 454 children ages 1 to 4 died of drowning in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It was the second-leading cause of death from unintentional injuries among children nationwide, just behind car crashes, according to the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.
And it can happen in seconds.
"I don't know how many parents say, "I just went to answer the phone. I was just away for a minute,' " Morrison said.
The chief said Spring Hill Fire Rescue is working to teach parents that drownings can happen to any family, but are "100 percent preventable."
Lt. Bill Eagle, a paramedic, has been leading Spring Hill's pool safety program since 2001, not long after his niece, Faith, fell into her family's pool and nearly drowned.
As part of the program, the district offers free home visits to conduct training. Eagle has also developed a pool safety brochure and a checklist available on the fire district's Web site, www.springhillfire.com.
The site offers safety guidelines, such as fencing the pool on all four sides with a barrier that is at least 5 feet high, installing panic alarms on all house doors and windows leading to the pool area, and draining off water that accumulates on top of the pool cover.
Eagle said a watchful adult is the best defense against child drownings.
"Lack of adult supervision is one of the main causes of this problem," Eagle said.
Kloss, 25, said she has always been an attentive parent. But she also works to help support the family.
"I'm a working mother," she said. "Any mother shouldn't be afraid to leave their children to go to work. Especially not with the children's biological father."
The boy was with his father, Barrett Brown, when the accident happened. He slipped out the back sliding door after his father got a telephone call.
"It happened so quick. It didn't even seem like a minute," Brown said. "I turned around, and he was gone."
Brown said the experience has been devastating.
"It's been rough," he said. "The guilt is the worst part."
In order to reach as many families as possible, the fire district will visit civic groups, stores, offices and day care centers, as well as homes. Spring Hill Fire Rescue also offers free CPR classes.
"I think everybody should do this," Eagle said.
Mary Spicuzza can be reached at mspicuzzasptimes.com or (352) 848-1432.
BASIC RULES OF POOL SAFETY
1. Constantly supervise children involved in water play.
2. Keep gates locked on pool perimeter when pool is not in use.
3. Place appropriate fencing and self-closing latches around a pool.
4. Don't allow children to play around pool area; keep toys away from the pool.
5. Keep chairs, ladders, tables and any other items that can be used to climb on away from pool fences.
6. Mount lifesaving floating devices near pool.
7. Post 911 stickers on phone.
8. Don't leave children unattended to answer the phone or the front door.
9. Have children leave the pool area if you have to leave the area for any reason.
10. Keep doors leading from the residence to the pool area secured at all times (locks should be placed out of reach of children).
11. Learn CPR and first aid.
For information about Spring Hill Fire Rescue's pool safety program, call 688-5030 or go to the district's Web site, www.springhillfire.com.
Source: Spring Hill Fire Rescue