Rialto students soak up Stewie the Duck’s water safety message

iecn photo/yazmin alvarez Rialto Fire Department’s Emergency Services Coordintor Joe Powell sings along with first graders at Hughbanks Elementary May 15 during the kickoff to Stewie the Duck’s drowning prevention program.
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If you want to swim with the big ducks, you first have to learn the three water safety rules: “don’t jump in ‘til you learn to swim, cover your chest with a safe life vest, a grown up must watch you in the pool.

“You’ll be safe if you learn these rules,” says Stewie the Duck.

Rialto Fire Department and its feathered water-saftey friend, Stewie the Duck, paid a visit to Hughbanks Elementary School Monday to kick off the annual drowning prevention program so youngsters stay safe as summer approaches.

May is National Drowning Prevention Month, and Rialto Fire Department and first responders work to continually spread the message that children need to be supervised in and around water.

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Marking a 10-year partnership with Rialto Unified School District, Rialto firefighters will make their rounds through 19 elementary schools, visiting all first grade classrooms to spread Stewie the Duck’s signature motto, “don’t jump in ‘til you learn to swim.”

The message will reach 20,000 students this year, said Matt Payne, Rialto firefighter paramedic who spearheads the drowning prevention program.

Payne introduced the program 10 years ago after Rialto accounted for nearly 50 percent of fatal drownings in the county between 2005-2006. On average, there were six to seven fatal drownings in the city with 13-14 near-drownings a year, department officials said.

The school district latched on in hopes of decreasing children’s drowning statistics by helping spread the message.

So far, it’s worked.

According to Loma Linda University Health reports, there were no fatal drownings reported in Rialto as of Nov. 2016.

“Since we began, a decade ago, no child going through this program has drowned and that’s reality,” Payne said. Rialto’s success has led Rialto City Fire to jump on board with the program and Corona Fire will begin soon, Payne added.

“Drowning is a leading cause of death for children in California,” said Rialto Fire Chief Sean Grayson, in a news release. “If we can educate and help eliminate any statistic of children drowning, we should do our part. We appreciate the district’s support. This is an important investment for our community’s youth.”

Following the visits at each school, students will be treated to an up-close look at a fire engine and will also be taught fire safety tips.

To continue the lesson year-round, a copy of Stewie the Duck Learns to Swim will be given to each first grade classroom.

iecn photos/yazmin alvarez
Rialto Fire Department drowning prevention program, Stewie the Duck learns to swim teaches first graders the importance of water safety.
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