“It was really hot that day,” said Bill Dietz, the oldest of the seven Dietz children – almost all of whom live on the family compound on Springtown Road in New Paltz – as he recalled the near-fatal tragedy that happened this past July 1. The day before, there had been a dual birthday celebration; and then Sunday, as temperatures continued to soar toward the triple digits, the family and all of the kids and grandkids descended again to enjoy Bill’s beautiful in-ground pool, the tiki bar, the lush landscaping and shaded lounge that he has so carefully constructed in his backyard.
“There had to be 12 to 15 kids in the pool,” said Bill as he shook his head. And there were as many adults — one of whom, Ann Benedetto, was catching one of her three-year-old twins, Andrew, as he dove off the diving board into the pool. Her other twin, Abigail, typically didn’t like to go near the pool.
“There were adults everywhere,” said Bill, noting that he had been talking with his mother, Donna, 74, when all of a sudden, he heard a ton of commotion. The twin’s older sister, Emma, who is 6, was in the pool holding her sister, Abigail, who was face-down. There was panic in her eyes, her mother said. Quickly, one of her uncles, Will, jumped into the pool and helped to pull three-year-old Abigail onto the concrete.
“It was like he had pulled a dead frog out of the water,” said Donna, with tears in her eyes. “She was grey and lifeless, and all I kept thinking was that someone had to go back five minutes and change this.”
Bill called 911. Ann, the mother, a registered nurse, remembered that her first thought was that “Abby had fallen into the pool and someone had pulled her out. That this was a close call.” But like her mother, she quickly saw that this was not the case. Abigail wasn’t breathing, she didn’t have a pulse and she was on the concrete, the color drained from her body. “I thought, ‘This is life and death.’ And I’m trained to just start doing compressions, so that’s what I started doing,” said Ann. “I knew that the algorithms had changed for CPR [cardiopulmonary resuscitation], and so I started doing rescue breaths and compressions and…”
In the meantime, Bill had called not only 911, but also his sister Ellen Dietz, who is a paramedic with the New Paltz Rescue Squad. Donna was calling out to God to bring her granddaughter back, and Ann kept doing compressions and rescue breaths.
To everyone there, it felt like hours, but within a few minutes Abigail started to throw out foamy grey liquid. Ann did not breath a sign of relief. “I didn’t know how long she’d been in the water. I knew we were not out of the woods yet.”
The Tillson Fire Department arrived and put the toddler on oxygen. Bill was running back and forth from the poolside to the driveway to get the rescue workers to his niece as quickly as possible. Ellen arrived, and the baby was whisked off to Vassar Hospital and eventually airlifted to the Westchester Medical Center’s Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital, where she made a full recovery.
“We want people to know how easily this can happen,” said Bill, who opened his home up this past weekend to friends, family and anyone who wanted to hear pool safety tips from a head guard at the Moriello Pool or learn CPR from the New Paltz Rescue Squad, who volunteered their expertise to help train people.
“We were all here; we were all watching,” said Bill. “Ann was a few feet away catching Andrew. I keep going over and over it in my mind.” So does Donna and Ann and every member of the Dietz clan, which is why they came together to educate themselves and others better on how to be safer around the water.
In fact, Bill said that they plan on making it an annual event for the entire community, right before Memorial Day weekend. “We want to hold a free CPR course [for which he has generously offered to pay] for anyone in the community, so that we can all be more prepared if a situation like this arises again, anywhere.” Drowning is the second leading cause of death in children, and not far behind it is choking on objects or food — which makes CPR one of the greatest lifesaving skills that an adult can have.
But let us not forget Emma, who, they later found out, saw her baby sister on the bottom of the pool, dove down and dragged her to the surface of the water. “Abby said she had been reaching for something and fell in,” said Ann. “And Emma was very proud of herself, because she’s been practicing her diving. Had Emma not dove down and gotten her sister — I can’t even imagine,” said Ann.
Here’s the bottom line: This could be anyone, and tragically, it has been. The Dietz family is very humbled and shaken and grateful that things turned out the way that they did, because there were far worse endings. “This didn’t happen on TV, or in some magazine; this happened right here on Springtown Road with a ton of adults watching the kids in the pool,” said Donna.
To that end, Charlene Mitchell, one of the head guards at the Moriello Pool, talked about some basic safety tips that any parent/guardian/adult can follow when at a private swimming pool, or even public pool, with a child. Her main points were that flotation devices — “floaties” — give parents or guardians a false sense of security, when really the child can still flop forward and drown, or the plastic could pop, or it could come up over their heads. “We do not allow flotation devices at the Moriello Pool,” she said, “but if you do use them, you should be within arms’ length of your child.”
Another suggestion was to make sure that children can swim the length of whatever pool they’re in comfortably, float on their back, be able to submerge themselves in water and get themselves out on their own. “They should always know where the exit is, and be able to get there themselves,” said Mitchell.
That said, children aren’t born knowing how to swim, and the best thing a parent/guardian can do is to get the child into swimming lessons at a local pool in the summer. or any aquatic facility where there are trained instructors. “We get them used to putting their face in the water, blowing bubbles, floating on their backs,” said Mitchell. If your child is not yet at that level, or does not have access to lessons, then it is critical that an adult who can swim stays with him or her as he or she learns to explore any body of water, from a puddle to a bathtub to a pool.
Although she’s trained in public pool management, Mitchell did have a great suggestion that came to her from her sister, who has a one-year-old and lives in a neighborhood where there are a lot of private pool gatherings — similar to the Dietz family, who all live within walking distance of their brother Bill’s pool. “When I told her that I was coming to speak with you and answer any questions, she said that one thing her neighborhood does if there’s a pool gathering is to use a laminated lifeguard tag and have adults sign up to be the “lifeguard” for 15 or 20 minutes. That means that they’re not drinking alcohol, they’re not talking to friends or family; they’re watching the pool, counting heads, scanning the bottom — and when they’re done, they give the next person a turn.”
After Mitchell answered many great questions and the kids jumped and frolicked in their uncle’s pool, Ellen and her NPRS pals did a demonstration on how to use an AED — which are installed at many local restaurants, grocery stores, bars, cafés and other places where people gather — as well as doing a CPR demonstration.
According to Ellen, the entire “34-member family, who witnessed the near-drowning of their three-year-old child, niece and granddaughter, are hoping that the empowerment of education will heal the memories of what happened on July 1 at the same pool.”
The US Consumer Product Safety Commission’s national public education campaign, Pool Safely, offers these safety tips:
1. Never leave a child unattended in or near water.
2. Teach children how to swim.
3. Teach children to stay away from drains.
4. Ensure that all pools and spas — both in your backyard and any public pool you may visit — have compliant drain covers.
5. Install proper barriers, locks, covers and alarms on and around your pool and spa.
6. Know how to perform CPR on children and adults.
7. Learn more at www.poolsafely.gov and take the Pool Safety Pledge.
More tips are available at www.nationalwatersafetymonth.org/water-safety-tips.
The American Heart Association encourages families to be prepared for summer safety by learning cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). With the swimming season and hot weather upon us, people should be prepared to act in case of a medical emergency. Get summer-safe and register for a CPR class at www.cpr.heart.org.
Accidents, choking and drowning are leading causes of death in children. Every day, about ten people die from unintentional drowning, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Of these, two out of the ten are children aged 14 or younger.
Drowning is the number-one cause of unintentional death among children ages one to four. The fatal drowning rate of African American children ages 5 to 14 is almost three times that of white children in the same age range. For children younger than 15 years old, more than two-thirds (68 percent) of the reported fatal drowning victims were boys.
Find a local Heartsaver CPR class at www.cpr.heart.org. Or call the New Paltz Rescue Squad at (845) 255-1719. For swim lessons, call the Moriello Pool at (845) 255-1700 or the Ulster County Pool for lessons locally at (845) 255-7027. You can also go to the Red Cross website at www.redcross.org.