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Greenwich Foundation Borne Of Tragedy Marks Decade Of Teaching Water Safety

Zachary Cohn died at age 6 when his arm became caught in the drain of a pool at his Greenwich home.
Zachary Cohn died at age 6 when his arm became caught in the drain of a pool at his Greenwich home. Photo Credit: Contributed

GREENWICH, Conn. — The Greenwich-based ZAC Foundation, which was borne out of the tragic drowning death of a 6-year-old boy, is marking the 10-year anniversary of improving water safety for all people.

The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act became federal law a decade ago this month — and there is no question that many lives have been saved, the foundation says.

Enacted after the granddaughter of former Secretary of State James Baker tragically drowned after becoming trapped by a pool drain, the VGB law put into place federal requirements for public swimming pools aimed at preventing such entrapments.

The law was enacted as the result of advocacy efforts by the Baker family and other groups dedicated to water and pool safety.

For Karen Cohn of Greenwich, co-founder of The ZAC Foundation, the 10-year anniversary is not at time for celebration. Rather, it is a time for a renewed commitment to saving lives and taking the next steps toward greater pool and water safety, she said.

Cohn and her husband, Brian, established The ZAC Foundation in 2008 in honor of their 6-year-old son, Zachary, who died a year earlier at the age of 6 after being entrapped in a pool drain.

Best known for its ZAC Camps, the foundation holds across the nation each year to provide water safety instruction to underserved children, the Cohns’ efforts have reached more than 10,000 children directly and more than 80 million Americans through earned and social media.

The camps are staged in partnership with the American Red Cross and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

“Thanks to the efforts of many, from parents who have lost children to drowning to great organizations such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and the American Red Cross, we have made very real progress toward making pools safer and taking basic water safety education to kids and parents across the nation," Karen Cohn said.

"But still, we lose eight Americans every day to drowning. That means that, since we began the work of the Foundation and since the VBG law was enacted by Congress, 38,000 people have drowned, and almost 8,000 of those are children. Many of those tragic deaths were preventable so we acknowledge we still have a lot of work to do."

The ZAC Foundation said that the VGB law applies only to public pools, which are only 3 percent of the pools in the United States. The other 97 percent, or more than 10 million pools, are privately owned and regulated only by inconsistent state laws and regulations, she said.

Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death in children ages 1 to 5. "Raising that awareness is the first step toward reducing the number of these preventable tragedies, and that begins with us: parents, educators, pool operators, and yes, all levels of government," Cohn said.

“A great example is pool and spa drains. The technology to prevent entrapment is not complicated. We simply must demand that it be adopted and if necessary, required. There is simply no excuse for a child to die because a pool owner, builder, or operator doesn’t invest the time and money to eliminate dangerous drains," she said.

As the ZAC Foundation enters its second decade, it will "focus the attention on water safety that our families and children deserve,” Cohn said.

Next year, The ZAC Foundation, along with their partners at the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, American Red Cross, will again sponsor ZAC Camps across the country, with a particular emphasis on reaching kids in underserved communities.

For more information on the ZAC Foundation, click here .

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