Nicole Chin was swimming in a community pool one day last summer when the then 9-year-old realized something was wrong.
“Emma is usually very loud,” she said of her little sister, who was 4 at the time. “I didn’t hear her.”
She looked around and soon found Emma lying face down at the bottom of the shallow end of the pool. She dropped her beach ball, dove down, plucked Emma up and carried her to the pool’s ledge.
Little Emma, now 5, survived the ordeal, but her mom, Eneida Chin, said the lesson learned was “we really have to supervise our kids 100 percent of the time.”
That and “we live in South Florida. Every child should know how to swim.”
To that note, the Broward Sheriff’s Office announced Tuesday that it used the majority of a $70,000 anonymous gift to provide 1,500 Broward children free swim lessons during the summer.
“Child drowning is 100 percent preventable,” said BSO Col. Al Pollock on Tuesday at Central Broward Regional Park’s Tropical Splash Water Park, 3700 NW 11th Pl. in Lauderhill.
Jay Sanford, manager of Broward’s SWIM Central program, said with drowning being the No. 1 cause of death for children under 4 statewide — and highest among black children — it is important to teach children water safety. In Broward — where there are 23 miles of beach frontage and 126 miles of canals — nine children under age 4, on average, die annually from drowning. This year, two children have died so far.
“Drowning prevention is our goal,” he said, as children learned the basic techniques. The $70,000 donation means 1,500 children can go to camp and get 10 days of 30-minute swimming lessons. It cost $32 per child for the session.
“Repetition is very important,” Sanford said. “It is a perishable skill. They have to be exposed to it as much as possible.”
Through SWIM Central, Broward’s coordinating agency for water-safety instruction and awareness since 1999, nearly 450,000 children have had swim instruction. The idea is simple: Make lessons accessible to all children in all communities.
For camper Destiny Perkins, 10, getting into the water wasn’t easy at first.
“I was scared,” said Perkins, as water dripped from her face. “I didn’t want to get hurt.”
But on Tuesday, at the direction of swim instructor Zander Feldman Destiny, she kicked across the pool and made it to the other side.
“It’s fun now,” she said. “I know what to do.”
Her friend, Anyia Chandler, piped in: “I’m like a mermaid.”
And while learning to swim is important, rescuers say supervision is key.
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue spokesman Lt. Arnold Piedrahita Jr said while the Progressive Firefighters Association Charities is providing swim lessons this summer to children in Miami Gardens, he also stresses the importance of barriers around pools.
“It is something so simple, but really important,” he said.
Jim O’Connor, aquatics safety coordinator for Miami-Dade, said the county’s Learn to Swim Program is aimed at providing low- cost lessons to every child.
“Our goal is to make sure every child in Miami-Dade knows how to swim,” he said.
Last summer, South Miami opened a public pool in a historically black community after a 40-year fight. But before the pool could open, children were bussed to Ransom Everglades School in Coconut Grove for swimming lessons.
Since the new pool opened in January 2012, the school has been teaching underprivileged children how to swim as part of its REACH (Ransom Everglades Athletes Can Help) program.
For Chin, what happened June 18, 2014, is still hard to wrap her head around.
Surveillance video shows Emma taking her orange floaties off and placing them on the side of the pool. She then hangs onto the pool rail and goes into the water.
While her sister and friends talk and play, the video shows Emma going under. Nobody notices for about 2 minutes.
Nicole, standing next to her little sister Tuesday, said she remembers screaming, “Mommy, mommy, mommy.”
She lifted her little sister’s lifeless body to the surface and Chin can be seen running over to her child.
Chin said she was cleaning up and preparing to leave after being there for about three hours when it happened.
“It only takes seconds for something like this to happen,” she said.