At Life Saver Pool Fence, we love speaking with professionals who work to keep children safe. Hot on the heels of National Water Safety Month, we’re proud to share our hour-long video interview with Pool Safety Mom, Mary Ann Downing. Mary Ann is a tireless water safety advocate based in San Diego, where she lives with her two daughters.
Here’s the Child Safety Source Video Interview with Mary Ann Downing:
Getting to Know Mary Ann Downing: Pool Safety Mom
For years, Mary Ann Downing has tirelessly worked to protect children. She has a degree in Health and Physical Education with a specialty in Aquatics. She was formerly a board member of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance. Mary Ann is currently a member of several water safety organizations.
It all began when she decided to start her own business. She opened Pool Safety Solutions. “I had recently bought a house with a pool in New Jersey,” she explains. This was the beginning of her quest. After thoroughly researching the concepts of pool fencing and overall water safety, she decided to use this purchase, combined with her background in Aquatics, as an opportunity to help others.
She began Pool Safety Solutions to become a spokesperson for the value of pool fencing, pool safety nets, pool alarms, and other layers of safety. As Pool Safety Mom, she explains the importance of swimming lessons, learning CPR and more as it relates to child safety.
Today, she still constantly volunteers to help reduce the number of fatal drowning incidents across the nation. Currently, Mary Ann is a San Diego County Aquatic Counselor. She is also volunteer with Safe Kids San Diego. Perhaps most importantly, Mary Ann was part of the team of folks from California that we were behind Senate Bill 442. This is the California Swimming Pool Safety Act that was passed last October.
According to the official government press release:
The measure updates the 20-year-old residential Swimming Pool Safety Act, and its common-sense and cost-effective modifications prevent drowning fatalities across the state by requiring an additional layer of safety in residential and public pools, while also requiring inspection of pool safety measures as part of the sale and transfer of a home in California.
A Legacy of Care
Mary Ann has worked tirelessly in her efforts to educate and promote water safety. Her energy, drive, and positive impact has surely helped to save the lives of countless children.
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us, Mary Ann!
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Below is a Direct Transcript of the Child Safety Source Interview with Mary Ann Downing from Monday, 5/21:
Eric: That’s it, we are live on the internet which is super exciting. This is Mary Ann Downing and I adore Mary Ann Downing. Mary Ann Downing is a fantastic human being and she’s the pool safety mom out of San Diego and she has been a water safety advocate since the dawn of time since before she was born. Notice I mean like even before your life I think you were somehow campaigning for water safety and yeah she’s an awesome person and I wanted to talk to her because of all of the water safety folks I’ve met she’s probably in my top two. So yeah fantastic. So how you doing?
Mary: I’m awesome, thank you. Thank you so much for thinking about me and [crosstalk] in the morning.
Eric: It is very early in California.
Mary: At six o’clock time to rock.
Eric: I am sleeping at 6 o’clock. I go to bed really really late so 6 AM for me is really really deadly. So if you can, do me a favor and tell me your origin story; where did you come from and how did you make your way into water safety?
Mary: Well a few miles outside of Pittsburgh born and raised and I actually got my start in aquatics at IUP, Indiana University of Pennsylvania. I’m a proud alumni and that’s just a college in Pennsylvania it’s a like a teacher’s college kind of thing. I have a degree in health and physical education and my specialty was aquatics, my emphasis was in aquatics and that’s where I met folks like other alumni are Bob Gorrik and Adam – and the NDPA is now housed at IUP. Yeah, at high school I was a swimmer and taught swim lessons and lifeguarded and went to IUP to be a YMCA aquatic director [crosstalk] which I was for a very short time in the oh geez, decades ago.
Eric: It seems like IUP has been the starting place for a lot of people in water safety.
Mary: It truly was. We had an aquatic school every summer but more than that we had Ralph Johnson who was the professor who really his focus was on drowning prevention and aquatics and being professional in the aquatics world [crosstalk] …from there, yeah.
Eric: Is he related to Johnny Johnson at all?
Mary: No. That would be a good one, maybe they really are.
Eric: It would be, yeah that would make sense. So why is IUP so unique in its water safety curriculum, why is it the cause of so many water safety people?
Mary: Well we’re Pennsylvania people first of all and we’re a hard-working bunch and I honestly think that there’s this spirit of give back and help the community and purposeful life where you interact with others and help them have better lives. I mean community service and I mean I was raised by you know the Girl Scout leader mom and who volunteered for everything and I guess I sort of became that mom too so it’s a good thing. But after IUP I did go into aquatics, I worked at the Y for a little while and then moved to New Jersey and went into– I actually got a different job after about a year so with the YMCA cuz that’s like one of the hardest jobs ever plus a 70 mile commute nearly, that was too much for me. So I was an aquatic and fitness director at the Y in my very early career and I actually decided to go into insurance because it was easier. But the opportunity to just volunteer as much as I wanted to anywhere I wanted to. So I worked in insurance for many years and then I had the worst day ever with a lot of other people in the East Coast on September 11th 2001 and saw the plane hit the buildings from my car – I was on my way to work and honestly it was the worst day ever and it makes your brain very different when something like that happens to you. And the next day I was like well why am I still a– what am I supposed to do next? And within a year I got laid off from my insurance job but got some outsourcing kind of help and I decided to start my own business because you get the opportunity to think well what am I good at and what can I do that might be good for other people and and my family of course. So I decided to start a little pool called Pool Safety Solutions and because my idea was I have all this great background in aquatics, I had recently bought a pool, house with a pool in New Jersey and I wanted to fill it in with dirt because my kids were 5 and 10 at the time but then I went out and I did my homework and water safety to figure out well how can I make my own tool safer. And with all this homework I thought, I got to share this, my gosh I found all of this great stuff not that it was from New Jersey it was mostly from California. So I ended up putting a pool safety net on my pool and while the guys were putting this pool safety net on I’m thinking oh my God that could be my next business; I could tell people about all these great products that are out there. So I did start Pool Safety Solutions and I became like a rep for pool safety fencing, pool safety nets, alarms, I talked about automatic covers and I would go to people’s homes. I was also a W [unclear 5:34] Red Cross volunteer and I would talk about all the things they could do to keep their kids safe; swim lessons, CPR all of that.
Eric: That’s awesome.
Mary: That was my Pool Safety Solutions. I thought it was genius at the time.
Eric: It is actually which is funny actually cuz I remember this and we talked about this a little bit when we were setting this up. I remember that we competed against each other when you started your business because you were offering a different brand of pool fence but even my dealers– [crosstalk] Yeah even my dealers in New Jersey though had great things to say about you. You know they said that there was a new person selling pool fencing in New Jersey but she was super nice and she was great and yeah they really even though they were competing with you, they didn’t have anything bad to say which I thought was really cool at the time.
Mary: In my mind it was like it’s– we’re all on one team we have to talk about pool safety to these… [crosstalk] and I would go in there after your guys would go in there and you know here’s me this like crazy mom who’s got this idea that people need to do this and take all of these different steps to make their pool safer. And you know I hate to say it but your guys only had a fence at the time [crosstalk] this whole menu of things. They most often beat me up because the woman versus man thing 15 years ago you know who are you gonna trust to drill a hole in your deck not that I was drilling holes
Eric: Right. You know it’s funny because I always think now, I think I’d rather I mean both men women do great jobs but I lean now if I can find a woman who wants to be a lifesaver somewhere I almost prefer that because I think you know there are more relatable to moms and they’re usually moms themselves and they approach it from a safety angle more than a drilling a hole in your deck angle and to– What’s that?
Mary: Thank you for saying that, you’re right.
Eric: Yeah and to me it’s a safety thing more than it is a fence thing right that we’re selling safety not fencing.
Mary: Yeah, well that’s 15 years ago and the world is very different and women rule saying.
Eric: They do?
Mary: I’ve been in a lot of homes, maybe more than a thousand homes in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and now I moved to San Diego and on 2006 and it’s a different culture out here in terms of different rules and who can drill holes in your deck basically. So I couldn’t run my business the same way here so I actually became a rep for Catch a Kid and did that for a little while and then went back into like the insurance world. And so for the last ten years I’ve been sitting at a desk job, it has nothing to do with pool safety but again back to my volunteering I get to go and volunteer wherever I want to.
Eric: The folks at Catch a Kid are good friends of mine I talk to them probably two three times a week. Clare, Brad thank you I was gonna feel bad for a second, yeah they’re good folks. Oh nicely–
Mary: Once yeah, wait the little guy on the back of all of these pages, where is he? You know they have this cute picture of little kids sitting on a…. I think she’s like graduated from college now.
Eric: So you have two kids right, you said?
Mary: I have two daughters yeah.
Eric: Two daughter’s awesome. How old are they?
Mary: One is 25, she teaches seventh grade science and Madeline is 20 and she’s a junior at Cal State Los Angeles in their Film and Media Studies program and she’s awesome.
Eric: That’s really cool.
Mary: …and it was screened in LA, I’m very proud. I’m a very proud mom.
Eric: What was the documentary on?
Mary: It was actually about a prison graduate program that Cal State LA has…beautiful…send you the link.
Eric: Yeah please do. Yeah if you send me the link I’ll put it so people can check it out.
Mary: It was very beautiful thank you for having me here today. So [??? 9:46] can talk about water safety.
Eric: Yeah so tell me what you’re up to now in water safety?
Mary: Oh okay right now I am a volunteer in San Diego and a volunteer with Safe kids San Diego, the San Diego County Aquatic Counselor and recently, very recently was on a team of folks from California that we were behind the Senate bill for 42 which is the California swimming pool safety act and that was passed last October. Thank you Governor. So we worked behind the scenes with Senator Josh Newman who the NDPA gave Community Lifesaver Award to.
Eric: So tell me about the law first, what does the law do that’s different?
Mary: So the Senate bill 442, it’s a law that was based on the original pool Safety Act from like 20 years ago when you have to have one barrier and you could pick out of a list of seven different types of barriers. The new law, the new swimming pool Safety Act requires two barriers. So redundant barriers, so it could be an alarm on the door, alarm in the pool, alarm on the door, a removable fence, permanent fence, a cover, ASTM certified cover. Yeah, so there are seven different things you can choose and pick two that work for you.
Eric: That’s super cool and it’s the first law I believe that actually uses layers of protection which blows my mind. I mean it’s super exciting that we finally have a law somewhere in the country that takes the thing that we all know works right. Everybody agrees that layers of protection is how you stop or make the pool as safe as possible for a child.
Mary: Make lots of things safe, like in cars there’s you know airbags and special glass and seatbelts and all of that, there’s not just one thing. So redundant, multiple layers of protection you’ve been saying it probably all month… barriers. So layers of protection when we talk about water safety could be you know watch your kids and you know swim near a lifeguard. These are multiple barriers so thank you to Consumer Product Safety Commission for putting all this good stuff together– Go ahead.
Eric: I was gonna say do you know allegedly to the best of my knowledge the origin of the phrase “layers of protection”?
Mary: Did you make it up?
Eric: No, I did not. I was seven when it came out but my but my dad did. Yeah, back in 19– so I was five actually in 1987 he was at a meeting with the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Broward County Health Department and all those folks and it was both a concept but also a business idea. He was tired of competing with alarms and swim lessons and you know supervision, you know everybody was kind of arguing which was the best way to keep kids safe. The alarm is best, no you need lessons that you know, no just watch the kid like that kind of thing. And so the idea was he said no, you do them all you know you need layers of protection you know the more layers of protection you have the better. And then he wrote it in a book called swimming, was it swim– pool safety swimming pools summertime fun year-round danger and he described the concept of layers of protection and writing for the first time in 1989. And he handed that book out to thousands of people and that’s where the term layers of protection came from.
Mary: Yay dad.
Eric: Yeah right kind of cool, right?
Mary: No, wonderful and brilliant and life-saving.
Eric: Yeah, so that’s my little contribution to water safety.
Mary: Pressures on, right.
Eric: So well thank you. Yeah, the law please, go ahead.
Mary: I had never been involved in anything that was so complicated in my– and I was just behind the scenes volunteer on a task force. And we would have these meetings and shout out to Steve Barrow and Nadina Rigsby from California they spent years on this before I got into the mix. But within the last year it really started to move and it started to move because not only senator Newman came into the mix but also Families United, the stories of Families United went to California. After last year’s NDPA event in Pittsburg, my hometown the Families United had a panel and–
Eric: So let’s back up. So can you tell everybody about Families United to prevent drowning kind of what their deal is and why they exist and what the story is?
Mary: Well you’d have to get them on your–
Eric: I am, I have already Jessica– yeah Jessica Curtis and I think and Elissa, yeah. But I would love anytime we have the opportunity because I know different people watch. So anytime I can get their story out there I try.
Mary: Thank you. So Families United to prevent drowning started with the NDPA I guess. Families, multiple families especially the Collingsworth would be at the symposiums or the conferences and there’s such power when these families get together and the strength just you know built and built and then Dana Gage had this brilliant idea of of these flip books. They had renamed it families United to prevent drowning and their tagline not one more drowning was presented to all of us along with all of these beautiful cards that tell the story of a child who was lost to drowning. But as importantly it tells the story of the family and what they’re doing now to prevent drowning and it’s so amazingly powerful. And so last year after the NDPA symposium I said I raise my hand up and I said like, “Can I have a box of those so that we can send them to the Capital in Sacramento California because we have this law that’s hopefully going to be passed.” And they were so gracious and wonderful and not only sent the box but also allowed us to put banners, make banners of California children that were used in press conferences. And we were also able to, speaking of banners and they’re big, they’re six foot tall the banners and the stories are just profoundly moving and influential and inspirational. But back to the law, Steve Barrow from the Unintentional Injury Task Force was able to get some kind of art project sort of exhibit okay and so we– not we but the task force and Steve hung up six banners outside the governor’s office in the Capital in Sacramento. And I’ll send you the link to the pictures, they’re really really beautiful and just so moving in the Capital you can go on a tour – to go see the governor’s office and so there are tourists just walking by and you could tell that they were really moved by what they were reading. So that was a great place for a press conference and a few weeks or a few days later there was press conference down in Southern California where we had the banners again and senator Newman talked about the law and it passed in October, it was amazing.
Eric: So is it in effect right now?
Mary: It’s in effect right now, yeah. So if you buy a house with a pool you have to sign off you have two layers of protection [crosstalk] the protectors are the sort of the police of it.
Eric: Is it the pool builder who has to facilitate that or is the homeowner individually responsible for coming up with those layers?
Mary: I’d like to say both you know so the house that already has an existing pool, the homeowner, it’s their responsibility, either way it’s the homeowners responsibility. So because you get to choose what works for you so it doesn’t say everybody has to have a removable pool safety fence or an automatic pool cover; you can choose the ones that work best for you.
Eric: That’s fantastic and we are– What’s that?
Mary: It’s choice, it’s the homeowners–
Eric: So are existing pools grandfathered in under the law?
Mary: Yes, of course. They’re all grandfathered in and but it would be when a home changes hands.
Eric: Gotcha and you said that’s the most complicated thing you’ve ever done in your life which is saying something considering that once upon a time you were a board member of the NDPA right?
Mary: Well, yeah for six years actually. So the reason why the law was so complicated, I really know nothing about legislation at all. And by the time the law from when we really got started in in February of 2017 to the time it passed in October of 2017, it had gone through four House committee votes, four votes Appropriations Committee fight. It was amazing the number of steps that you have to take and they were to call a meeting and they’d say we need this and I’m like okay let’s see who do we know that can help us get whatever that thing was. A floor jockey, who even knows what a floor jockey is.
Eric: I don’t.
Mary: It’s a political thing. Call your Congressman maybe he’ll be your floor jockey.
Eric: Okay that’s awesome. So you want to walk us through the different options, what are the different layers available?
Mary: Oh geez, I’m on the hot seat. Okay we should click on the link to the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s pool safely barrier guide and you can read all about them. When we talk about the barriers, these are the barriers between the house and the pool, it doesn’t count the fence that goes all the way around that might be attached to your house to keep your neighbors kids safe. These barriers are to keep the kids safe that you invite to your home okay. So it could be door alarms, removable fencing, permanent fencing, different types of covers whether it’s a– as long as they’re ASTM certified and there’s one other thing, automatic door lock. So sliding glass door, closing–
Eric: And you had to show and tell you had a door alarm right?
Mary: I just did, what did I do with it?
Eric: That’s what made me think of it, you had all these cool toys and I wanted to talk about them.
Mary: Well you know moms do show and tell. So this is just a simple door alarm thanks to I think Lowe’s donated these hundreds– thousands of them and something as simple as a door alarm that you leave on that you don’t scrape off as soon as the inspector leaves. These really– they can be life-saving because you know if somebody’s going out towards your pool so something this simple which also of course alarms inside the pool–
Eric: Now those door alarms, are those the kind where you have to push the button and you have seven seconds to pass through?
Mary: Yeah, you have to push the button, you don’t need to take it off the door you leave it there and you push the button because you want your kids to not be able to outwit you and kids are quite genius as you probably have heard through all of your years of doing pool safety and many ways a small child can outwit parents including from the garage.
Eric: So what else show and tell you got? You’ve got the pool alarms– I mean the door alarms?
Mary: So thinking as the pool safety mom, they’re so many – that moms can do and dads can do too that are just so simple and almost free to really building their families a sense of you know that we’re a water safety family, we’re pool safety people, we’re pool safety moms and dads. So not only watch your children kind of thing which is by the way impossible, because life intervenes. But spend time with your kids, get in the water with your kids and even before you get in the water with your kids start telling them stories so they learn. Are you make a music to go along with mine?
Eric: No, I’m not.
Mary: Oh it was an airplane?
Mary: You know start reading books to the kids, start reading early so that the kids know that there’s safety roles and there are things that are very important around the water like stay with the grown-up and ask permission before you get in the water…and not only at the pool but at the beach. Shout-out to Don Walsh teach the beach book, he’s amazing life saver from New Jersey.
Eric: I have never seen that.
Mary: I’m gonna have to send you one.
Eric: Yeah that’s great, I’d love that, that’s really cool.
Mary: Yeah, we love Don Walsh. He actually won a community lifesaver award last year along with Nicole MacNeil from San Diego who we love, community lifesavers really doing great work on both sides of the country yeah. Don’s probably on the radio right now talking about water safety in New Jersey.
Mary: Yeah. So along with reading to your kids and keeping your kids with water safety in mind, one of the things that I’d like to talk about Joshua Collins with just for a moment, Josh the Otter, God bless the Collingsworth family. Within a year of young Joshua’s drowning in his backyard pool in Nebraska, his mom and dad Cathy and Blake Collingsworth started the Joshua Collingsworth Memorial Foundation and their work has been who nothing short of amazing and they surely are life savers. They’ve surely saved kids all over the planet at this point.
So one of the things that I will never ever forget Blake saying the very first year that I met him at an NDPA conference, he said that if f Joshua knew to stay away from the water like he knew to stay away from the road and the stove, if he knew to stay away from the water it might have been different and I will never ever forget that. And so that’s the part that parents can do. Sometimes parents say oh, I don’t want them to be afraid of the water. Well, you actually do want them to be afraid of the water, you want kids to stay away from the water unless it’s time to swim.
So it’s just so books like Josh the Otter and kids take the little pledge to you know I promise to be a good son or daughter and get a grown-up when I go near the water. Moms and dads read to your kids, get your kids to know these. Little rules like they know stop drop and roll – for fire right. My daughter at one time she just I’m surprised how infrequently I need to know – thanks to God. But stay away from the water unless you have a grown-up is something that every kid needs to know more than stop drop and roll so anyhow start early–
Eric: And you know I know parents are scared of their child becoming scared of the water but you know the reality is you know they don’t end up scared of roads, they don’t end up scared of stoves, you know they do end up cooking when they get older. So you know it makes sense that you can instill these you know healthy precautionary measures in their minds and they can still go on to interact with these things in a safe responsible way later on completely fine.
Mary: Exactly, so through the years when I did my pull Safety Solutions business as the pool safety mom I’ve heard genius ideas from moms. So here’s a good one I hope it makes you laugh. So one year I did a pool water safety water – kind of thing and it was like a fill-in-the-blank, never swim without a–? Go ahead.
Eric: A buddy, I’m guessing?
Mary: Yeah. Never swim without a–? Pick another one.
Eric: A life vest, a friend you know etc yeah.
Mary: So I had this little girl come up to me and I said never swim without a– and she said in this cute little voice bathing suit. Like never swim without a bathing suit. We laugh so hard we thought it was hysterical, it was so funny. There’s so much wisdom in that and I talked to her grandmother not long after that she goes oh that’s the rule in our house, I’m like never swim without a bathing suit?That’s what she said, it was so cute. So never swim without a swimsuit is one of the rules from this genius grandmother. She said oh no, I have a backyard pool and the kids know that they can never even get near the pool on the surround, on the 3-foot surround without their swimsuit on because it is not time to swim unless they have their swimsuits on. She says I keep the swimsuits up high in a closet on a high shelf so that the kids can’t go get their swimsuit and jump in the pool. So just those kind of barriers and boundaries you know you have to have your swimsuit on if you’re around the water three feet around the water. So it’s free, simple and another just great idea of parents setting boundaries for their kids. Another great thing that the Y and lots of swim instructors will always always stress is that kids have to ask permission before they go in the water. And then they have like a little thing where they’ll say okay ready 1 2 3 jump and they have to always say that so if you’re at a pool and you hear somebody behind you say 1 2 3 you know somebody’s…little kid’s gonna jump in the water. Anyhow just those little things are free but you have to really stress them, parents need to know that kind of stuff, gotta be pool safety moms. Where’s the hat? Everybody can be a pool safety mom.
Eric: I love the hat.
Mary: Thank you.
Eric: Can people still get the hats?
Mary: I’ll send you a hat, I made them so that when we would go to different water safety events like April Pool’s Day or a swim for life challenge kind of event the moms could wear the hats and then you know as we volunteer for the different kind of booth let’s say where we teach CPR or reach, throw, don’t go, or how to wear a lifejacket so the pool safety moms would be out in full force being volunteers around the pool.
Eric: I love reach, throw, don’t go, can you explain that real quick?
Mary: Oh sure, yeah and actually so we do these little postcode like it’s like a passport kind of thing. Like you have to go around at a pool event and you have to do a couple different things. This particular one says first of all you have to learn about layers of protection and drain safety and you get a little check mark.
The second one is about adult supervision and water watchers so you go to the next booth and you get your little water watch your tag. The next one is try on a life vest, you’d be surprised how many kids have now know how to put on a life vest. You can tell when they don’t know though because they start putting them on you know inside out and upside down kind of thing. And then we teach them reach, throw, don’t go and then rescue breathing and CPR.
So reach, throw, don’t go, what does that mean? So this is what we teach kids so not little kids but like kids who are you know strong enough to maybe let’s say five six seven eight nine ten year old, we don’t want those kids jumping in because if you do ask those little kids well what would you do if your little brother fell on the pool. We don’t want them to say I’m gonna jump in and save them because that’s what they first think because they’ve had you know beginner swim lessons and they can kick their feet you know maybe get to the wall themselves and so they think they can swim and they think that they can save their little brother or sister or whoever and we don’t want that to happen.
Well first of all we don’t want kids around the pool by themselves period. So the reach, throw, don’t go is actually from the American Red Cross for years and years and years it’s reach, throw row go and that’s what lifeguards are supposed to do. But for little kids we want them to reach or throw, don’t go. So if they see somebody in trouble in the water they can start yelling for help help help, grown up grow up grow up, mom mom mom; they can start like if they can’t reach for them with their hand or a stick or something on the pool deck or a kick board let’s say they can start growing things that float. And this is not for someone who is a passive drowning victim, this would be somebody who is in trouble in the water let’s say. But we really don’t want little kids by themselves at the pool at all but we want to keep them safer by keeping them on the deck reaching and throwing.
So it also applies in a boat not everybody has had lifeguard training about little kids we want to keep them inside the boat and they can reach and they can throw things but we don’t want little kids to go. So – Tony recently wrote an article about well somebody has to go and absolutely somebody has to go, the most trained person needs to go or if it’s a backyard pool an adult can go, they can jump in the water. We don’t want the little kids jumping in the water. So although there there are lots of stories about little kids rescuing each other, we don’t want to promote that. We want adults to be close by watching the water and able to intervene if possible.
Eric: You know I always feel torn on our own Facebook sharing those stories because on the one hand they’re great stories of you know one kid saving another and they bring attention to– you know they bring attention to water safety and they’re a positive story and we don’t get a lot of positive stories. So you know you try to you know put those in the mix so it’s not depressing all the time because most of those stories don’t end very well.
So I’m always apprehensive about you know sharing those stories but you’re right you know the idea is that little children should obviously be getting help saving a child or I love reach, throw, don’t go. So you talked about the lifeguard version which I know as well the the reach, throw, row go and that’s good advice for adults too right?
Mary: Oh for sure yeah. You know everybody should take a lifeguard in class. Go take a class, go take a water safety class it really is– you could truly save somebody’s life or go get one of your old books if you took it when you were a teenager or young, stick it in your car and just go look at it it’s a good advice or just Google it. You can always Google it. So can we talk about Water Watcher Tag for a minute?
Eric: Yes please. I love Water Watcher Tags, I do.
Mary: We’re gonna decorate you in them you know.
Eric: Yeah I should, that’s a good idea.
Mary: So this is one from San Diego and the Jasper Ray Foundation, we love them so much. So one of the things that worries me about Water Watcher Tags is when the parents put them on. The parents are not the water watchers. Well, they’re the parents, they’re supposed to watching their own kids. So the water watcher is the extra person, it can be me cuz my kids are all grown right now.
I could be the extra set of eyes where I can watch the water while the parents are interacting one-on-one with their own kids. So that’s just one of the things that I worry about that when we give these Water Watcher Tags the parents for a while ago oh thanks I’m gonna use this all the time. Like you need a water watcher, never swim alone that goes for you too. So an adult with two kids at a pool is alone, those two kids are not going to be that much help and I know we’re not talking– I’m talking little kids. Nobody adults should go with two small children to the pool by themselves, you need a water watcher.
Eric: That’s great. So explain the water watcher concept? Do I usually say these two do 15 minutes shifts, do you agree with that?
Mary: It doesn’t matter.
Eric: 10-15 around there?
Mary: It depends on the situation. There are some you know people have great ideas about their own pool, pool owners are very genius. Sometimes they set up a little chair that’s like right in the right spot to watch excuse me I need a cup of coffee, go get a cup of coffee. So sometimes I’ll put a little chair out right by the edge of the pool and somebody has to sit there and they become the water watcher, they might not have an official tag but they’re the water watcher. They might have a funny hat or that I’d say lifeguard on it or might just be the biggest hat in the house or they might have a whistle or something but somebody has to be in that chair if the kids are in the pool in addition to having their parents with them. And parents get in the water with the kids, it’s so much fun, it’s so much fun, yes.
Eric: Awesome do you have any more Show and Tell things for us?
Mary: Oh I have like a whole living room of show and tell.
Eric: Keep going though, let’s do it.
Mary: But back when I ran my company, Pool Safety Solution, this is not a commercial for that it was just a wonderful part of my life I started in 2003. And on the back of that card, I have the ABC, ABC’s drowning prevention. So this is you know 15 years ago, we’ve been saying the same kind of thing you know a for adult supervision, assign a water watcher, I was ahead of my time an adult must be alert aware and active within arm’s reach and supervise kids and install alarms. How’s that for adult supervision there you go. B was barriers between the children and the water, block access to the pool it would bB right. C, learn CPR and create a plan to stay calm in a crisis and swim teach kids to swim survive and everybody learn to swim; go pool safety mom.
Eric: I like it.
Mary: Yeah, that was pretty good for fifteen years ago.
Eric: Right and what’s awesome is that the information really hasn’t changed much. You know we’ve been talking about layers of protections since 1989 you know and the data is evolved but we’ve gotten better but it’s kind of the same message we’ve been hammering home for 30 years.
Mary: Don’t touch the stove, don’t run in the road and stay away from the water. So along with the barriers and the block, one thing that I always talked about that was Marcia Ker who we love so much lost her son Cody. She was – pool safety fencing for many years and then worked for the Consumer Products Safety Committee.
Eric: With me, she was our– her and her husband were our very first dealer ever.
Mary: She’s wonderful and [crosstalk] there on Friday too. She was part of the group with this the Senate bill 442 of California she’s wonderful. And she and I have talked about the concept of the pools closed or the pools open. The pool is open if it’s time to swim and you have your swimsuit on and mom’s getting in the pool and you have your water watchers and all of that. But when you’re done close the pool and that’s where fencing and nets and alarms and lock the door tight so that the pool, the whole pool area is closed that there’s no question, no nobody should be near the pool, pool’s closed. So I just think that there’s some wisdom in that that families can can really adopt. Pool’s closed, sorry can’t go in.
Eric: You know what’s another one that I’ve been saying a lot lately too is you know if you wouldn’t own a car without seat belts, you shouldn’t have a pool without pool protection a pool fence on a net you know a cover I’ve been saying that constantly because it seems like people get car safety right? They understand you need airbags, you need seatbelts, you need the car seat right but you know you wouldn’t put a kid in a car without a car seat so if you wouldn’t do that then don’t have a pool without a pool safety fence or something to keep it safe of safety.
Mary: As many layers of safety as you can put on your pool, I totally agree it is like a car, it’s life-saving.
Eric: And actually more children under five died in pools that in cars, it’s actually a more dangerous than a car.
Mary: Yeah, one to four for sure.
Eric: Yeah, one to four.
Mary: Yeah speaking of statistics, I’ve been tracking statistics since 2003 and one of the things that I did that was really eye-catching I guess for a lot of parents was you know we always talk about ages one to four. Well, let me tell you a one-year-old and a four-year-old are two different creatures they are miles and miles apart. One is wobbly in a diaper and a four-year-old you know can probably read a book. When you look at those ages what we found out was that the one in two year olds have the absolutely worst numbers of drowning just as an example. I have it somewhere around here, I have more recent information but in this particular year, 160 one year olds drown as compared to 45 four year olds.
So combining them is you know it maybe it doesn’t make all that much sense, I mean that’s the way the world is, that’s the way the CDC works in age groups. But when a parent of a very small child who is one or two looks at those numbers they go oh my gosh one year olds is the absolute worse and then two year olds is next and then it goes down three year olds four year olds you know and it doesn’t start to go back up again until the 15 to 18 year olds. But they’re not drowning in pools they’re actually drowning more in open water.
Eric: You know that’s I always think of that statistic when I hear organizations say that you shouldn’t start swim lessons until three, four, five years old but I’ve been hearing that and it’s getting better now. The American Academy of Pediatrics is approved and the messaging is gotten better but when we first started they used to say don’t start teaching a child to swim until five years old. And we used to say most kids have drowned by then. I mean really you know most kids drown at one in two years olds so if you wait till five you probably are too late.
Mary: That’s right, that’s right. No, it’s never too late to learn to swim.
Eric: I didn’t mean it’s too late for that but it’s too late for a lot of the children that the drown at one and two.
Mary: Yeah the one in two year olds and God bless all the people that are taking their kids to swim lessons don’t put all your eggs in that basket – layers of protection if that’s one of them that’s okay but it’s not the only one. Keep your kids away from the water and I might be slightly critical but it’s the perfect solution when you go to the nice warm pool and you have a loving instructor with you and your child’s in their swim diaper and it’s like I said the water is warm, it’s a very different world than if you’re outside and your little guys outside riding his tricycle around the back, grandma’s pool and rides his tricycle into the pool. So they even have tricycles anymore?
Eric: Probably, yeah.
Mary: I feel like the safety grandma…getting up there. But yeah it has to be perfect to fall in 90 degree water in your swim diaper is very different than falling into 65 degree water with your clothes and shoes on. And I know that some of the survival groups do practice the kids with their clothes on and that’s genius but we can’t use that as well my kid has taken these lessons. So keep your kids away from the water, if it’s not swim time the pool’s closed, close the pool. [crosstalk] …too leave that pool fence up, it’s a beautiful thing. The fencing is beautiful we have to get people to start saying that.
Eric: You know I think and I’m biased but I really really truly do think that a pool looks better with a pool fence.
Mary: It’s beautiful make it without a pool fence.
Eric: It does, it looks weird without it right? I really think that you know and again my perception might be skewed but I’ve just seen so many pools with pool fences that when I see it– beautiful pool fences exactly that when I see it without it it looks strange, there’s something wrong.
Mary: If you see a pool with a– I don’t even want to say handmade do it yourself but if you see somebody rig stuff up like let’s go get the lawn chairs and make a pool fence to keep the kids away from the pool, well let’s get the doggy doors or let’s get the trash cans, that’s hideous; a pool fence is a beautiful thing compared to like the lawn chairs laying on their sides to keep the kids away from the pool. So come on people get real.
Eric: Right, fantastic. Is there anything else that you want folks to know?
Mary: There’s so much good stuff out there. So I told you about the ABCD’s; adult supervision, barriers, classes like CPR and swim classes. And so the messaging is really important and more messages are better not just a list of do this don’t do that, do this don’t do that. But let’s try to get people thinking in in a better way so that they can get a more comprehensive approach to pool safety.
And so thanks to Johnny Johnson and the safer three and I think Alyssa talked about this that all the water has risk. And the risk is always in three categories and you can try to maintain or improve your risk in these categories. So again all water has risk, any kind of water; backyard water, bathtub water, the ocean, doesn’t matter. And families have to figure out well what’s my risk and my own risk is based on my family and the circumstances. Is it freezing cold are there sharks, that’s an exaggeration are there rip currents, are my kids 25 and 20 or are they 2 and 5? So every parent has to figure out well what’s my risk?
And so Johnny Johnson has has come up with the safer three and where he puts the three categories every drowning has three different categories; it has a child or a victim or a person, it has the water of course and then it has the response. So if we can start to think how to make the kids safer, the water safer and the response safer; I think that that message just there’s so much value in just taking that on. It’s just a comprehensive message so if you can show that in your world that’d be great. So let’s make the water safer and the kids safer and a safer response. So and let’s talk about safer response, sound good?
Mary: Okay so and I have Johnny’s water safety checklist.
Eric: I love it.
Mary: Yeah at home, at the pool and around and if you go to saferthree.org I’m sure you can download that or stop drowning now is the foundations name. But under safer response here’s a good one and so this is a quiz, it says; “I know that if my child is missing I should always check the pool first.” Check and it says, “Survival depends on a quick rescue and restarting breathing as soon as possible.”
So speaking of breathing CPR is a life-saving skill that’s it’s something that everybody needs to know and we talk about kids and drowning, the breathing part of CPR is incredibly important. It’s so important that you can actually start breathing if you jump in the water and have a child in your arms, you can start breathing in the water because your child has stopped breathing, if they’re drowning they’ve stopped breathing and you need to get air back to the brain.
The second question on the safer response quiz is, are family members have up-to-date CPR first aid skills and again with rescue breathing and you don’t have to show me your card. If I need CPR you don’t have to show me your card, I’d like to have breathing in compressions. The next note is about a first aid kit, the next item is about emergency phone numbers should be posted and a lot of pools like you can’t see it behind me I live in condo complex, the pool behind me has the address of the pool on the signage out there and that’s another thing that people need to be aware of.
Somewhere you should have your address as well as a phone number at the backyard pool. Emergency phone numbers have been programmed into each adult’s phone, that’s even better right? And then the next one is I know how to use the rescue equipment located in the pool area. And if you’re at a public pool here in California probably all across the country, you’ll have a long stick with a hook on the end of it, shepherd’s hook or a life hook that would reach halfway to the center, it would reach to the center of the pool and that’s something good that you can you know don’t jump in the freezing cold water use that life hook if you have to if you’re not a lifeguard, if you can’t swim, if you can’t stand up in the water. And the next one is my babysitter childcare provider knows the rules for the pool and is CPR certified. So those are a good safer response tidbits.
Eric: Those are and the response side doesn’t get as much attention as the other two so I’m glad that we talked about that.
Mary: Yeah, thank you. I do have my CPR over here–
Eric: Yeah… just say that it’s not creepy at all.
Mary: No, I know it’s less creepy in the life vest if you can believe that.
Eric: I’ll take your word for it.
Mary: Yeah, but everybody should learn CPR with rescue breathing for kids and drowning folks.
Eric: I’ve heard Bob Pratt talk a lot about CPR classes that don’t include the breathing and he is a passionate advocate that the – an important part of any CPR sessions.
Mary: He probably says something like CPR with no breathing that’s for the big fat guys that collapse at the mall. So it’s not for kids, kids need breathing all the time not just drowning, kids need rescue breathing all the time.
Eric: For sure, awesome.
Mary: What else you wanna talk about?
Eric: I think we could be good. You wanna talk about [??? 47:34] we can talk about anything like we’ve got you know another eight minutes toward an hour and I try to do it for 30 to 60 minutes so I don’t more people to death.
Mary: I told my house my husband like we only should talk for 15 minutes because nobody’s gonna listen to this. But I’m just gonna have all this great clips that you’ll snip it down and you’ll have a 30-second something.
Eric: Right but you know someone out there and believe it or not people do you actually watch the entire things.
Mary: Folks God bless you all, pool safety. [crosstalk]
Eric: Water safety, I am a giant fan and I’m a fan of water safety [??? 48:06] and we have you know 10 more days right of water safety months?
Eric: So what are you gonna do for the last 10 days of water safety months?
Mary: I’m gonna go teach some more people how to swim, I’m teaching adult swim lessons. I recently was certified by the US Masters Swimming organization and I am a certified adult learn to swim instructor and I’m having so much fun with adults who on their bucket list they wanted learn to swim to be checked off. It’s just been really rewarding and wonderful and hopefully that will help these parents, these moms get into the water with their kids and have more fun in the water and a safer family. Yeah, so that’s some of the things that. I’m doing I’m gonna be taking Josh the Otter out and about. He’s been a lot of places in San Diego including to the zoo and lots of water safety events at April Pool’s days and he went to America on Main Street in El Cajon, the other day he was at the hospital, he’s been to church, God bless Josh the Otter and the Collingsworth family is just so wonderful in sharing their son Joshua with the world at this point. And the book is so charming and the sentiments just are so sweet and it’s so easy it’s such a great icebreaker. If I hold up Josh the Otter people want to know what is that, tell me about that and read the story. And it’s just become so easy and wonderful, it’s just such a great part of every water safety event that I go to now. So Josh the Otter.
Eric: And you’re on the board of the Collingsworth Foundation right?
Mary: Yep and there’s fun things, puppets – water safety so much fun, bath times fun with Josh the Otter float on the water–
Eric: I love their floating bath toy.
Mary: That’s him right there.
Eric: I know that I love that thing, I think it’s so cool.
Mary: It’s very cool.
Eric: And I should make a video of that but yeah it’s kind of neat because you drop it in the water and it flips on its back which I think it’s awesome, I love that.
Mary: We want kids to be able to do that, flip on their back. So you can’t see this at my table but I did get an award from the Joshua Collingsworth Foundation; in 2014 I was their water safety advocate and then in 2017 the San Diego County Recreation Department called me their aquatic safety volunteer of the year. And I recently got the Ripple award from the NDPA. So I guess I’ve just rippled on you Eric. Go and share some more water safety, you’ve rippled widely yourself.
Eric: Well thank you–
Mary: Yeah so that’s the last question of the day.
Eric: Last question of the day, if a mom or a dad could do one thing to make their child safe, what would you have them do?
Mary: Oh I’d have think safer, think about the water and the risk and all of the things that they need to do to keep their child safer because it’s not one thing that thinking is the one thing. Think to make the water safer, the kids safer and a safer response and just keep on loving your kids and keeping them safe and that’s the one thing. Yeah think safer and love–
Eric: I love it, I appreciate it, it’s so good.
Mary: Thanks Eric, you’re awesome.
Eric: Thank you Mary, you are awesome.
Mary: … to your billiards room?
Eric: Yeah my terribly– all of our podcasting film equipment has ended up on my pool table so that’s what you’re looking at.
Mary: Pool safety.
Eric: Pool safety, it’s funny we play Jeopardy every day in the office and we film it and every episode– two o’clock exactly, and every episode ends with us saying pool safety, pool fence, pool safety…but very good.
Mary: … can go for a walk over here and you can see some of the things that inspire me. Can you see this?
Eric: I can see a lot of things.
Mary: Yeah well I don’t want you see everything but– [crosstalk] Yeah so these people have been so wonderful to share their stories, the Families United to prevent drowning and God bless them and keep on telling the stories. So Bill Amelia is gonna come over in a couple weeks, he’ll stay here at my house and tell Drennen story in San Diego to about 400 lifeguards. So and Paul de Mello has been here and told the story of his kids to those same lifeguards. So I just thank them so much for all that they’ve done so and that’s how I can sign out I guess. So thank you thank you all for so much. Thank you Eric for what you’re doing.
Eric: Thanks Mary Ann.
Mary: God bless you honey.
Eric: Thanks so much bye-bye.