A tragic child drowning at a Philadelphia Parks and Recreation pool last year will mean stricter rules for young swimmers who visit city pools this summer.
The biggest change: all camp swimmers will have to swim from one end of the pool to the other before they'll be allowed in the deep end.
On July 18, 2013, Ja'briel O'Connor was visiting the Cobbs Creek Recreation Center pool with his summer camp when he ventured into the deeper end of the pool. O'Connor, who was 7 and 4-foot-4-inches tall, panicked in the water, which was 5-feet deep.
He did not know how to swim.
According to the Philadelphia Medical Examiner, O'Connor suffered cardiac arrest and sank to the bottom of the pool, unnoticed.
Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Deputy Commissioner for Programs, Leo Dignam, said the new swimming pool rules were developed in direct response to O'Connor's drowning in an effort to keep young swimmers safe.
"Two weeks after the unfortunate drowning I got together with our aquatics director and our program director and we thought of several changes we could make to prevent incidents like that from happening again," Dignam said.
Some changes swimmers can expect to see this summer include increased signage about the 4-foot-5 swimmer height requirement and rope partitions to mark the shallow end of each pool.
"We are preparing for our pool season and our new pool rules will be going up online. We'll also be getting new signs for the pools, so they have to be ordered and installed," First Deputy Commissioner for Parks and Recreation Susan Slawson said.
Perhaps the most significant new rule will be the mandatory swim test for all visiting camp swimmers.
"I want to make a distinction here, this is not for people who swim during 'free swim.' We're talking about between 11 and 1 p.m. when large groups of camps come for camp swim. All of those campers will be screened. They’ll have to swim across the pool. If they can't, they’ll have to stay at the shallow end of the pool," he said.
"And we offer free swim lessons. So, those kids that don’t know how to swim will have an opportunity to learn how to do so."
Dignam said the department is also implementing additional water safety training for all of its camp staff; this includes more than 200 employees that operate the city's summer camps and employees at the more than 250 outside camps and day cares that use city pools during the summer. As of this summer, they will all be required to provide a certificate of proof that they have completed the new training.
Dignam said the department has a good record of keeping children safe at its pools, but there's always room for improvement.
"We actually have a very good track record, when you think that we have almost a million visits a year in an 8 week period. But any drowning is not good for us . It’s a tragedy that we would hope not to happen. So these rules are designed to keep children safe."