RELEASE: As Summer Begins, Gottheimer Announces New “Safe Swimming Strategy”

Boost Pool Safety and Prevent Drownings. Protecting Children and Families When Swimming.

Jun 21, 2023
Press

Above: Gottheimer announcing his new Safe Swimming Strategy to boost pool safety and prevent drownings.

RIDGEWOOD, NJ — Today, June 20, 2023, at Graydon Pool, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) announced his new Safe Swimming Strategy to help prevent drownings and protect our children and families in pools, especially during the summer months.

In 2022, at least 50 people died in New Jersey after drowning in swimming pools or natural water. Last June a 55-year-old River Vale man drowned in his backyard pool, a 7-year-old girl drowned in a backyard Teaneck pool, a 1-year-old boy drowned in a backyard pool in Paramus, and two teenage brothers drowned in a Bayonne school pool.

National Drowning Statistics:

  • According to the CDC, drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages 1-4 and the second leading cause of death for children ages 5-14. 
  • Recent reporting found that an average of 371 children drown in pools and spas every year and there are an average of 6,300 non-fatal drowning injuries that need emergency department treatment.
  • Every year in the U.S., there are an estimated 4,000 fatal unintentional drownings — that is an average of 11 drowning deaths per day.

Gottheimer’s Safe Swimming Strategy Includes:

  • First, passing the bipartisan Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety (VGB) Reauthorization Act.
    • Gottheimer and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (FL-25) are introducing the bipartisan VGB Reauthorization Act to bolster safety standards for public swimming pools and spas, and promote awareness to prevent pool-related injuries and deaths. 
  • Second, promoting strong swimming skills.
    • Gottheimer encouraged parents to enroll their children in free or reduced cost swimming lessons at a local YMCA, USA Swimming Chapter, or Parks and Recreation department.
    • Research shows that 64 percent of Black American children and 45 percent of Hispanic children have low-to-no swimming ability.
    • The VGB Reauthorization Act will provide federal investments for swim lessons nationwide. 
  • Third, ensuring pools are up to code and following necessary safety standards.
    • The VGB Reauthorization Act includes a grant program that incentivizes states and municipalities to have pool and spa safety laws and requirements on the books. It will also ensure that all public and hotel pools have proper safety drain covers and shut-off valves designed to prevent children from being trapped underwater by the powerful suction of pool filter systems.
    • The VGB Reauthorization Act will expand eligibility for federal pool safety grants and create additional oversight and reporting requirements.
  • Finally, spreading awareness to promote safe swimming and drowning prevention.
    • The VGB Reauthorization Act will create a new grant awareness campaign for the Consumer Product Safety Commission to conduct outreach. 
    • Gottheimer highlighted the importance of preventing young children from being able to get near water if an adult isn’t nearby and installing more and stronger layers of protection like a 4-sided fencing with a self-closing, self-latching gate around all pools.
    • Gottheimer encouraged parents to learn CPR and residents to consider working as lifeguards to combat the national shortage.

“With summer starting, we need to make sure we’re taking the necessary precautions and measures to keep our children and families safe when swimming. While swimming in a pool can be plenty of fun, it also comes with plenty of danger. Just like across the country, our communities here in Jersey have witnessed a terrible spike in drownings recently. Drownings right here in Bergen County and across North Jersey,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5). “This summer, we need to do everything we can to make sure not one more child or adult dies from drowning. It’s preventable, and there are clear and easy steps we can take to make our pools, lakes, and communities safer for families. And there’s nothing partisan about saving a child from drowning.”

“I’m so proud and happy to be here with my very good friend Congressman Josh Gottheimer who is spearheading legislation to provide funding for water safety programs. And in this era of a national lifeguard shortage, this is critical to water safety,” said Ridgewood Mayor Paul Vagianos.

This legislation is so important because water safety is so incredibly important. We have to remember that drowning happens quickly and quietly. One of the biggest ways that we can prevent drowning is by making sure that everyone has access to swim lessons,” said Director of Competitive Swimming at the Ridgewood YMCA Meaghan Donnelly.

Gottheimer was joined at Ridgewood’s Graydon Pool by Ridgewood Mayor Paul Vagianos, Director of Competitive Swimming at the Ridgewood YMCA Meaghan Donnelly, lifeguards, and local first responders.

Video of the announcement can be found here. 

Below: Gottheimer announcing his new Safe Swimming Strategy to boost pool safety and prevent drownings.

Gottheimer’s remarks as prepared for delivery:

Good morning. It’s great to be back in Ridgewood at the town’s Graydon Pool — a historic site that goes back to 1918, when the town first dammed the Ho-Ho-Kus Brook. But, for most people, and especially kids, the all-natural Graydon Pool is a place to come and swim on a hot summer day.

All across Jersey, families visit town pools and places just like this one, or go to a friend’s backyard to go swimming. 

Jersey families are incredibly lucky to have all of this at our fingertips and it’s one of the many reasons to love living in the Garden State — not to mention the Jersey shore! My kids and I love heading out for a day at the pool.

After all, summer is a time for family fun and relaxing — and to be outside. 

But, with summer starting, we need to make sure we’re taking the necessary precautions and measures to keep our children and families safe when swimming. While swimming in a pool can be plenty of fun, it also comes with plenty of danger. We need to be extra careful when our families go swimming. And I know so many parents are getting their kids swim lessons, and towns are ensuring our local pools are up to code. We must also do everything we can to spread awareness about water safety and drowning prevention.

That’s why we are here today — to announce my Safe Swimming Strategy, including steps to bolster safety standards for public swimming pools and spas, and promote awareness to prevent pool-related injuries and deaths.

Why is this so important? Just like across the country, our communities here in Jersey have witnessed a terrible spike in drownings recently. Last year alone, at least 50 people died in New Jersey after drowning in swimming pools or natural water. Drownings right here in Bergen County and across North Jersey. 

I remember last June there were ten drownings in ten days in New Jersey and New York.

Last June a 55-year-old River Vale man drowned in his backyard pool. A little over a week later, a 7-year-old girl was found drowned in a backyard Teaneck pool. A few days later, a 1-year-old boy was pulled from a backyard pool in Paramus.

Last April, a high school senior drowned in a pond in New Milford, after going to get a soccer ball for kids playing nearby.  

And then again, last June, two teenage brothers drowned in a Bayonne school pool.

The nationwide statistics are jaw dropping as well.

Every year in the United States, there are an estimated 4,000 fatal unintentional drownings—that is an average of 11 drowning deaths per day.

According to the CDC, drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 4 and the second leading cause of death for children ages 5 to 14.

And, reporting released this month found that an average of 371 children drown in pools and spas every year. On top of that, there are an average of 6,300 non-fatal drowning injuries that need treatment at the emergency department.

Our lifeguards in Jersey do an incredible job and I’m grateful for them — but we must do more to ensure our pools are even safer for children and families.

That’s why today, I’m announcing my Safe Swimming Strategy to help protect our children and families in pools, especially during the summer months.

First, later this week, with my good friend, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, I’ll be introducing the bipartisan Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety (VGB) Reauthorization Act to bolster safety standards for public swimming pools and spas, and promote awareness to prevent pool-related injuries and deaths. This pool safety legislation will help decrease drownings. 

The law is named after Virginia Graeme Baker, the 7-year-old granddaughter of former Secretary of State James Baker, who tragically died in 2002 after being pulled underwater by the drain of a hot tub connected to a pool. The bipartisan legislation will establish a new Director of Drowning Prevention at the Consumer Product Safety Commission – or CPSC — and expand eligibility for federal pool safety grants. It will also create a new grant awareness campaign for the CPSC to conduct outreach, allow grants to be used for swim lessons, and create additional oversight and reporting requirements.

The second part of our Safe Swimming Strategy is all about promoting strong swimming skills. 

We know how scary a pool can be for someone who doesn’t know how to swim — God forbid they fall into a pool or accidentally go into deeper waters. Parents and loved ones, before your kids head to the pool this summer, make sure their swimming skills are strong. You can enroll them children in free or reduced cost swimming lessons at your local YMCA, USA Swimming Chapter, or Parks and Recreation department. It’s never too early or too late to learn! In fact, Ridgewood and the YMCA here offer swimming lessons.  

And this is an issue that especially hits our minority communities harder. Research shows that 64 percent of Black American children and 45 percent of Hispanic children have low-to-no swimming ability.

As I mentioned, the new bill I’m helping to introduce this week will provide federal investments for swim lessons nationwide. 

The third part of our Safe Swimming Strategy is about ensuring that our pools are up to code and following all the necessary safety standards. 

The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety (VGB) Reauthorization Act includes a grant program that incentivizes states and municipalities to have pool and spa safety laws and requirements on the books. 

The legislation will also help ensure that all public and hotel pools have proper safety drain covers and shut-off valves — required by federal law — designed to prevent children from being trapped underwater by the powerful suction of pool filter systems.

Regardless of whether you’re swimming in your home pool, or visiting a public pool, please be sure that all drain covers are not loose or broken. 

Finally, as part of our Safe Swimming Strategy, we need to do everything we can to spread awareness and increase training, safety measures, and instruction to promote safe swimming and drowning prevention. This is a growing issue that parents, teachers, and children need to be aware of. 

Even if a lifeguard is present, it’s critical that children are always closely supervised in or around water by an adult. Water watchers are responsible for keeping an eye on their child in the water.

We need to prevent young children from being able to get near water if an adult isn’t nearby. 

Installing more and even stronger layers of protection is key to prevention. One of the best layers of protection is 4-sided fencing with a self-closing, self-latching gate around all pools. 

Research shows that the installation and proper use of barriers or fencing substantially reduces the number of childhood drownings in residential swimming pools. We’ve all read far too many stories about babies or toddlers who accidentally wander off and fall into a pool and drown. It’s heartbreaking – and preventable. 

It’s also critical that parents learn CPR because it can be the difference between life and death when waiting for first responders. In fact, performing CPR on a drowning victim immediately after an incident can double—or even triple—their chance of survival. 

The Y offers lifeguard classes and CPR classes and financial aid for those who can’t afford them. And the Red Cross also offers low-cost classes that can be found online, as does first aid for free dot com. Even some of our town fire departments offer CPR lessons.

Additionally, we’re experiencing a nationwide lifeguard shortage and it’s resulted in some pools across Jersey to close. I can’t encourage our residents enough, especially our high school and college students, to consider working as a lifeguard. Many of our towns have training programs.  

I also think it’s important that our schools teach about water safety. 

Our young children go to Safety Town to learn about fire, bicycle, and street safety and our high schoolers take drivers ed. Shouldn’t we want our kids to have classes on water and swimming safety, too? 

This summer, we need to do everything we can to make sure not one more child or adult dies from drowning. It’s preventable, and there are clear and easy steps we can take to make our pools, lakes, and communities safer for families. And there’s nothing partisan about saving a child from drowning.

By working together, here in the greatest country in the world, I know that our best days will always be ahead of us. Thank you and please remember to be safe this summer. God bless you, your families, and God bless the United States of America.

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