There were kiddie pools and dancing ducks and singers and hot dogs and guys with big red trucks, but the most attraction-grabbing presentation during Saturday’s Pool Safety Expo at Fire Station 126 was a presentation from an officer of the California Highway Patrol.
And it wasn’t about speeding or car seats or traffic control.
CHP Officer Charmaine Fajardo stood in front of a picture board covered with various images of a smiling young boy. A young woman sat close by, holding a tissue in her hand.
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“On April 10 of this year, my life changed,” she said. “I was born and raised in Sacramento, but I moved out here last year. I got a call from my daughter’s stepmom and she asked me if I’d talked with my daughter recently.
“When I told her I talked with her yesterday, she turned away from the phone and said ‘she doesn’t know.’”
What she learned in that instant was that her grandson, Christopher Ramirez, was found in the bottom of the family pool.
Suddenly, a closer look revealed the family resemblance between her and the child on the board and the young woman. In the room filled with young parents with squirming children, all adult conversation stopped.
“Because I’m an officer, I was able to get patched through to the dispatch center and talk to my daughter at the hospital,” she continued. “She said ‘Mom, he’s gone, he’s gone.’ I asked her ‘are they working on him?’ and she said they were, but that he’s gone.”
Christopher was found at the bottom of the pool, 20 feet away from uncles who were barbecuing and turned away just for an instant to chat.
When Christina, the baby’s mother, discovered he was missing, she instinctively ran out the front door to see if he’d wandered into the street. He hadn’t.
Running into the backyard, the uncles told her that the youngster wasn’t there because from where they were sitting, they couldn’t see the bottom of the pool.
Then she said they noticed the boy’s cap floating on top of the water.
“I came outside to find my uncle coming out of the pool with him,” she said. “I know CPR and I started it on my son and the paramedics got there and worked on him in the ambulance, but….”
Wiping tears from their faces, the parents in the room hugged their children a little tighter. One woman took a crying child out of the room, winding her way past the officer and her daughter.
“I’m a young parent, but I’m an educated parent,” Christina said. “Care about your children and educate yourselves.”
Fajardo stepped back up to the front of the room.
“We had everything in place,” she explained. “But talking about it is what gets people to take action. Learn the ABC’s of drowning.” (Adult supervision, Barriers, CPR)
“We had adult supervision – there were adults out there. They were outside, barbecuing, but no one was assigned to watch him. They turned around to talk for a split section.
“With children, especially small children, when they say children drown without a sound that’s true,” Fajardo said. “They don’t make a sound, they don’t jump in with a big splash. Chris was probably being sneaky because he knew he shouldn’t be in that pool. So he went silently in the pool. It’s not like in the movies where they splash around.
“He went underwater and probably within the first 30 seconds or so, was already starting to sink to the bottom because he didn’t know how to swim, plus he had a diaper on, which was weighing him down. Because they didn’t see him go in the pool, once he was in, it was already too late.”
Fajardo said that as a CHP officer, she always worried that something would happen to her children and grandchildren as a result of a traffic accident, but drowning “was the furthest thing from my mind.”
“That baby that was crying just now,” she said, referring to the child who left. “I’d give anything to have that be Chris crying right now.”