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Belmar Drownings Prompt Efforts to Better Prepare Youngsters Before Entering Water

A memorial still remains on the entrance of Belmar’s Ninth Avenue, where two Belmar girls drowned in June. Since then, efforts are under way to better educate children in water safety. Credits: Cathy Goetz
Belmar is exploring ways to expand Belmar Elementary School’s annual water safety program with a “water survival experience” at L Street Beach, near Maclearie Park on Route 35. Credits: Cathy Goetz

BELMAR, NJ — Since a drowning incident claimed the lives of two Belmar girls nearly two months ago, elected officials are looking at ways to help prevent such tragedies in the future — starting with better preparing children before they enter the water.

On the statewide level, Sen. Robert Singer (R-Monmouth/Ocean) and Assemblyman Sean T. Kean (R-Monmouth/Ocean) have introduced legislation requiring school districts to provide instruction on water safety as part of New Jersey’s comprehensive health and physical education standards. Both legislators represent the 30th Legislative District, which includes Belmar and Lake Como.

The bill, A-5159, will require school districts to provide students in kindergarten through grade 12 with information on the importance of swimming in areas monitored by a lifeguard, how to become aware of the water conditions, the danger of rip currents and how to respond if caught in one, and other important topics.

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“We teach students about fire safety, prevention tips, and what to do if you are in a fire. I think it would be really beneficial if students also learned about water safety, what dangers to avoid in the ocean and the pool, and what do if you are in an emergency situation in the water,” Kean said .

“Our goal with A-5159 is to increase kids’ knowledge of safe habits when swimming in the ocean or pool. I also hope it will increase awareness about water safety for both kids and adults,” Singer said.

At Belmar Elementary School, where drowning victims Mitzi Hernandez-Nicolas and Emily Gonzalez Perez attended school, an annual water safety program conducted by the borough’s water rescue team is already in place. However, Belmar Councilman Thomas Brennan, the school’s music director who taught both girls, is pushing for the addition of an actual “water survival experience” to the program.

“The mayor and council want to do everything we can to ensure that our kids know what to do in the case of a water emergency; how not to panic and how to stay afloat and alive until help comes. What happened to these girls must not happen again,”said Brennan, adding that the tragedy weighs heavy on his heart.

In response, the borough is bringing together members of its water rescue team, Police Chief Andrew Huisman and Belmar Superintendent of Schools David Hallman, who also is a water safety instructor, to explore conducting water survival lessons at the L Street Beach, near Maclearie Park on Route 35.


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