updated 6/22/2004 11:13:07 AM ET 2004-06-22T15:13:07

The first day of summer was marked in a somber way as grieving families of children who drowned in backyard pools joined safety experts in pleading that something be done to end the deaths.

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Parents and safety experts are pushing for mandatory safety measures such as pool fences, alarms and devices that will shut off high-suction drains that can pull a child under.

“We have got to educate parents that the hole in the backyard that looks so calm can be terribly, terribly dangerous,” said Jane Parker of the Florida Department of Health’s office of injury prevention.

Nationwide, about 250 children under the age of 5 drown each year. Most of those incidents occur in backyard pools and studies have shown that usually an adult was nearby, but not watching the child when they fell in the pool.

The parents of drowning victims and Florida safety experts told the commission they want anti-drowning education for parents to be as prevalent as the message to put children in car safety seats or to not drive drunk. In Florida, there are more than 1 million residential pools.

The hearing came on what would have been Preston de Ibern’s 14th birthday. Instead, his mother Carole de Ibern gave commissioner’s a stoic accounting of how in 1995, her then 5-year-old son fell into a pool while the family was visiting a friend and the adults were momentarily distracted from watching him.

Preston was left brain-damaged and unable to walk or talk. Last year, the boy died from pneumonia which attacked his weakened lungs.

“People tell me all you have to do is supervise your kids,” Carole de Ibern told the commission. “I was as vigilant as any parent could be because I cherished my kids.”

The de Iberns were instrumental in passing Florida’s law requiring newly constructed pools to have either a fence, a water alarm or window and door alarms. Carole de Ibern said she wants such requirements to be law in every state and apply to all pools.

“People say a fence is ugly, a fence is too expensive,” she said. “Seeing a child face down in a pool is ugly.”

Besides swimming pools, safety experts also urged the commission to increase public education about the dangers of spa drains. In some older models of pools and spas, the drains can create such strong suction that children are pulled to the bottom of the spa and can’t be freed.

Although the drains have been recognized as a hazard for decades, commission members were told there isn’t adequate public education about the dangers nor is there a good method for counting how many children die in drain accidents. Often those deaths aren’t distinguished from other drownings.

The commission’s second hearing on the issue is July 27 in Phoenix.

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