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Hempstead Town officials, grocery magnate promote pool safety

Stew and Kim Leonard, who lost their toddler

Stew and Kim Leonard, who lost their toddler in a backyard pool drowning, speak about pool safety in East Meadow on Thursday. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Hempstead Town officials and grocery magnate Stew Leonard, who lost his son to a drowning 30 years ago, are urging residents to take pool safety measures.

Hempstead Supervisor Don Clavin said Thursday that applications to the town building department have doubled as residents seek to add home pools during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nationwide there has been a 400% increase in pool installations this year as many families have avoided public pools and beaches, Clavin said. He said most pool installation companies are booked through October.

Public town pools and pools in Nassau County reopened July 3, but are limited to 50% capacity.

“This is going to be different than any other summer we’ve ever seen,” Clavin said. “With the joy and happiness of a pool, there is also a safety concern that residents have to be aware of. I don’t want anyone to ever face a tragedy like this.”

Last week a 7-year-old boy was found unresponsive in a pool in Great River and hospitalized in serious condition. Last month a 76-year-old Fort Salonga woman drowned in her home pool and in Glen Cove, a 52-year-old man drowned and his 12-year-old son was hospitalized.

The Hempstead building department requires pool safety measures when granting pool installation permits including pool alarms, proper fencing and automatic closing gates around pools.

Clavin appeared at Veterans Memorial Pool and Park in East Meadow with Leonard and his wife Kim, who run the Stew Leonard III Water Safety Foundation to advocate for pool safety after their 20-month-old son drowned 30 years ago. The foundation has raised more than $2 million for water safety awareness and education, including lifeguard training and swimming lessons for underprivileged families.

“Today is about trying to create awareness of pool safety and prevent someone from the same loss Kim and I had,” Leonard said. “In a split-second our son drowned. We were all around the pool and didn’t have full view.”

Leonard and his wife said they are now focusing on pool safety with their 1-year-old grandson, including teaching him to float and emphasizing teaching children not to go near the water without adults.

“I assumed Stew was watching and Stew thought I was watching and we never communicated to each other,” Kim Stewart said. “We never took the time to say never go near water without us with you. We’re also telling people put your phone down. It’s a huge distraction. I would love zero additional drownings on Long Island this summer.”

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