Water safety program makes waves with Rialto first graders

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 iecn photo/yazmin alvarez Stewie the Duck, with the help of Rialto firefighters, taught Fitzgerald Elementary first graders the importance of water safety.
iecn photo/yazmin alvarez
Stewie the Duck, with the help of Rialto firefighters, taught Fitzgerald Elementary first graders the importance of water safety.
 iecn photos/yazmin alvarez Joe Powell, Rialto fire EMS, sits with students during the annual water safety program
iecn photos/yazmin alvarez
Joe Powell, Rialto fire EMS, sits with students during the annual water safety program

Dozens of Rialto first graders are now ready to dive into summer after

soaking up a very important message—you can’t swim with the big ducks until you “know all the rules.”

The hands-on lesson—a read-and-sing-along of the book, Stewie the Duck Learns to Swim—was presented at Fitzgerald Elementary April 27 to kick off the annual water safety program as summer months begin.

Rialto firefighters along with the help of the life-vest wearing feathered friend himself, Stewie the Duck, brought the lesson to life by singing a water safety song with three important messages in the lyrics: Don’t jump into a pool until you learn to swim; Cover your chest with a safe life vest; and Never go swimming without a parent.

 iecn photos/yazmin alvarez Matt Payne, Rialto firefighter paramedic, leads a sing-a-long with first graders teaching them all about water safety through the program, Stewie the Duck Learns to Swim.
iecn photos/yazmin alvarez
Matt Payne, Rialto firefighter paramedic, leads a sing-a-long with first graders teaching them all about water safety through the program, Stewie the Duck Learns to Swim.

“You can’t swim unless someone is watching,” said 6-year-old Elizabeth Sandoval.

“You have to know all of Stewie’s rules,” she said after an encore of the song.

Following the visit, students were treated to an up-close look at a fire engine and were also taught fire safety tips. Students also received a bookmark and a copy of Stewie the Duck Learns to Swim was donated to the school’s library in addition to each first grade classroom.

The program was founded by Kim and Stew Leonard Jr. and teaches children and parents the importance of water safety. The Leonards’ turned their personal tragedy of the drowning of their toddler son into inspiration and created the invaluable program.

Rialto Fire Department adopted the lesson eight years ago after Rialto accounted for nearly 50 percent of fatal drownings in the county between 2005-2006, said Joe Powell, Rialto fire EMS coordinator. On average, there were six to seven fatal drownings in the city with 13-14 near-drownings a year, Powell said, “we had to do something.”

Now, Rialto averages one fatal drowning and one near-drowning a year, he added.

“That’s pretty significant,” Powell said.

And he touts the program for the decline.

“I know it’s a result of the program,” Powell said. “Within a year and a half or so of starting Stewie, those numbers went down and they’ve stayed down ever since.”

Rialto firefighters, along with Stewie, will bring the program to all first grade classrooms at the district’s 19 elementary schools throughout the month of May. By the end of the program, 2,000 children within the Rialto school district will have participated in the water safety program.

The campaign will culminate with a free swim at the Tom Sawyer Pool at the City’s Parks and Recreation center.

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