ZAC Foundation to present at World Aquatic Conference

The significance of water safety will be heard tonight at the 2012 World Aquatic Health Conference, where town resident Karen Cohn will address the prevention of water-related tragedies, with her own personal tragedy sadly available as evidence.

Ms. Cohn is the co-founder of the ZAC Foundation, an organization dedicated to water safety advocacy and education. The foundation was established by Ms. Cohn and her husband, Brian, after their 6-year-old son, Zachary, drowned in the family’s swimming pool in 2007 after he was trapped underwater when his arm was caught in a powerful pump drain.

The couple then sued David Lionetti, president of Shoreline Pools, the company responsible for installing their swimming pool, and a criminal investigation came about as a result of their complaint. After being convicted of second-degree manslaughter, Mr. Lionetti pled guilty to a lesser charge. This allowed him to avoid jail time and since then Ms. Cohn said it has been her family’s mission to prevent future tragedies like their own through educational efforts around the country, including a now-annual camp at Greenwich’s Boys & Girls Club.

The ZAC Foundation has since become a leader in water safety and is expected to continue making an impact this evening as members of the organization address pool industry executives, manufacturers and advocates from 42 states and six countries. The conference is being held in Norfolk, Va., and Ms. Cohn is slated to speak tonight.

The seminar the foundation will present will focus on instituting layers of protection in pools, which include education, active supervision, physical barriers, alarms, aquatic skills, and emergency response; water safety education, including avoiding drain entrapment; and supporting regulations for safe private pools. It is the first time the ZAC Foundation will provide this kind of presentation, Ms. Cohn told the Post.

Although conference attendees will be adults, the foundation will educate the audience about many of the same safety tips children learn at the organization’s water safety camps, which were held not only in Greenwich but also in Westport, Florida and Illinois in 2012. For instance, the “ABCs and Ds” of water safety, which include adult supervision, barriers, classes, and drain safety, will be touched upon, Ms. Cohn said.

Having a water safety plan is also essential, she said, in the same way that many families have a fire safety plan. Individuals who use swimming pools should know how to shut off a pump if someone is entrapped, how to recognize loose drain covers, and how to rescue a distressed swimmer without putting oneself at risk. There should be a phone close to the pool, and everyone should know how to dial 911 in the event of an emergency, Ms. Cohn said.

A portion of the conference will be dedicated to the drowning epidemic in the country, and the foundation will address drowning statistics, she said.

There were 123 pool-related deaths in the summer of 2011, versus 140 in 2012. The increase may be due to higher temperatures in the Midwest, Ms. Cohn said, where more people were likely to go swimming as a result of the region’s drought. However, although the number of deaths fluctuates from year to year, there continues to be a need for water safety education, she said.

Furthermore, the public should be made aware of laws surrounding swimming pools, Ms. Cohn said. While there is a national law in place that requires that layers of protection be built into the country’s approximately 300,000 public pools, regulations for the 10.5 million private pools in the United States are generally less stringent and differ from state to state.

In fact, she said, Connecticut is considering weakening current private pool laws because members of the pool industry have been lobbying to eliminate layers of protection, which are currently mandated by state law.

The most recent law concerning private pools was passed in 2005 and requires newly built private pools to have dual drains, which allows for less suction, and an automatic pump shutoff system, Ms. Cohn said.

“That’s how, of course, we want it to stay,” she said, but there are still too few people who know about drain entrapment.

While members of the ZAC Foundation continue to help build safe pools on the sidelines, others would allow for the weakening of private pool laws, putting people of all ages at risk for a pool-related death.

“If my pool had had the layers of protection it was supposed to have, then my son would still be alive today,” Ms. Cohn said.

In an effort to further its mission to prevent water-related tragedies, the ZAC Foundation hopes to open more water safety camps next summer and plans to establish an official relationship with the Boys & Girls Club of America in 2013.

For more information on the ZAC Foundation, visit


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