NEWPORT BEACH — Jim Landis is not an activist by trade. But since December, when his 18-month-old son nearly drowned in the family's back-yard pool, Landis has compiled page upon page of statistics on toddler drownings.
"Did you know that a residential swimming pool is 14 times more likely to cause a death than a single automobile?" Landis asked, pulling out pages of statistics from his beat-up folder of papers and notes.
He lists more: In 1988, drowning was the leading cause of death for children between the ages of 1 and 4, nearly 90% of whom wandered into the pools of a family member. For every fatal drowning, there are 10 more children who are hospitalized, between 5% and 20% of whom suffer severe brain damage. Boys account for 78% of all childhood drowning deaths.
As part of his crusade, Landis has taken it upon himself to educate Orange County about the dangers of back-yard pools. He has consulted with experts, attended a national conference on childhood injuries and spoken in front of a Newport Beach City Council meeting.
"After I recovered emotionally from this whole thing, then I realized how many other people there must be in Orange County that are just exactly like me--got a swimming pool, got a child, you're working, you're busy, you turn your head for a second, bingo, they're gone," Landis said.
"My whole pitch to the City Council a couple of nights ago was that there are things you can do to put up barriers, to help protect the children from falling in. It's a preventable accident, that's the tragedy."
On Monday night, Landis asked the City Council to adopt a swimming pool code that would be the most restrictive in California with regard to fencing and child-barrier requirements.
Landis' proposal was tabled, but city officials asked him to discuss his suggestions with the city building director.
Newport Beach was the first city he approached with the proposal. Through his newly formed organization, the Children's Pool Safety Assn., Landis hopes to carry his message throughout the state.
"To think of those two kids, that blows my mind," he said, after hearing about Wednesday's accident in Fullerton, in which the youngsters, ages 3 and 5, nearly drowned in a pool. The 5-year-old girl reportedly is suffering from brain damage. "I mean, I knew this was going to happen. I've just been in a race to get this whole thing together."
To prevent pool accidents, Landis said one of the most effective steps a family can take is to erect isolation fencing, which completely surrounds a pool.
All doors from a house or garage to the back yard should be equipped with self-closing and self-locking mechanisms, he said. Other preventive measures include pool covers that are snapped down and alarms that go off when something falls into the pool or when a door has been opened from the house.
Landis also believes that a every pool owner who has children living at home should be certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
The most restrictive legislation approved in the state has been in Contra Costa County in Northern California. That ordinance requires isolation fencing on all pools except where pool covers, alarms or self-latching, self-closing doors are installed, he said.
Landis maintains that many pool owners, once informed about the frequency of injuries, would install the protective devices recommended by experts. But the best way to institutionalize such measures, he said, is through local and state lawmakers.