ROSLYN, Long Island (WABC) -- Officials in Nassau County are warning parents of the drowning dangers associated with pools and the beach as temperatures spike across Long Island, urging them to stay vigilant to keep children safe.
County Executive Laura Curran joined Stew and Kim Leonard, who tragically lost their child in a pool drowning, along with lifeguards and CPR instructors at the Christopher Morley Park pool.
The Leonard family has raised millions of dollars to promote water safety after their 21-month old son Stewie died in a swimming pool accident.
"If you're home, you are the lifeguard, so that's why it's important to never let a child out of sight," Curran said. "You might want to think about life jackets or water wings for smaller children as well, when they're learning how to swim."
More than 800 children drown each year, more than half of them under the age of 5.
Stuck at home because of the coronavirus pandemic and canceled vacations, many families decided to build pools in record numbers last year to make quarantine more enjoyable.
"It's a beautiful day, we're out here in Long Island, look how great this pool looks," Stew Leonard said. "Look at these kids out here. They're having fun right here. We love water. We want kids to be in the water, but let's do it safely. "
Mid-June and July is typically the hottest time of the year, when thousands of Long Island residents are utilizing local pools.
Swim lessons were also on hold during the pandemic for many families, so now, swim safety experts worry that some kids may be at risk of drowning due to missed time of lessons in the water.
"We had a whole bunch of adults around the pool," Stew Leonard said. "We thought we had everybody watching Stewie. The problem was I thought my wife was watching him, she thought I was watching him, a little gap in communication, and that's all it takes. Next thing you know we saw him floating in the pool."
Swim lessons build muscle memory, especially if there's an emergency in the water, and instructors say it's important to refresh your family on safety measures this summer.
The Stew Leonard III Water Safety Foundation also released a book, "Stewie the Duck Learns to Swim," geared towards young kids. It includes a catchy song that young children can easily memorize
"Don't jump in till you learn to swim," Stew Leonard recited. "Cover your chest with a safe life vest. A grownup must watch you in the pool, you'll be safe if you learn these rules. Don't jump in till you learn to swim. Stewie the duck wants us safe like him."
Stew and Kim say so many parents tell them they've avoided accidents because their kids learned safety from the book, and they want parents to know it's never to early to teach kids.
"Now looking back, the most important thing is, I know that Stewie was so smart, and if I had taken the time to just talk to him about never going near the water without asking me first, I think he would've gotten it," Kim Leonard said. "Because he learned not to put little objects in his mouth. He learned not to go near the hot stove. We had a fire in the fireplace. Young children are smart, but you need to have that conversation with them."
The Leonard family says that while the pool is fun, it's important that adults stay as vigilant as a lifeguard. That also means limiting your time on your phone, because we all know how easy it is to get distracted
Top tips to prevent drownings include:
--Never leave a child unattended in or near water
--Teach children how to swim
--Be sure children are able to roll onto their backs in the water and float
--Teach children not to swim alone
--Use a U.S. Coast Guard approved flotation device that properly fits your child
--Teach children to stay away from drains
--Ensure all pools and spas, both in your backyard and any public pool you may visit, have compliant drain covers
--Install proper barriers, covers and alarms on and around your pool and spa
--Know how to perform CPR on children and adults
--Adults who don't know how to swim are encourage to take swimming lessons
A heat advisory has been issued in Nassau County for Thursday and Friday, with heat indexes into the triple digits.
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