Derek Frechette has been called a fierce and tireless advocate for legislation to make summer camps in Massachusetts safer for young swimmers. For four years, he and state Sen. Stephen Brewer (D-Barre), along with supporters, worked for it — and in July 2012, Christian’s Law was signed by the governor.
It was named in honor of 4-year-old Christian Frechette, who drowned at summer camp on Cedar Lake. He and his brother, Cameron, had arrived July 13, 2007, with their father. Christian was later found in 3 feet of water near a dock.
His dad had brought life jackets for the boys, but was not allowed to leave them because it was against camp policy. A staff member told him that the facility had eight lifeguards.
The new law requires all summer camps in the state to test swimmers to determine their ability, and to have available a Coast Guard-approved life jacket for every at-risk swimmer. It also states that such camps cannot prohibit a parent or guardian from providing an approved “personal flotation device” for the child’s use while there.
The CEF Foundation, established by Derek and Christina Frechette in their son’s memory, will provide free life vests to public or private camps and others who need them, said Derek, an electrical engineer whose foundation work has become a full-time job. “We just got our 501(C3) status, and every cent raised will go toward life jackets, swim lessons and to help families who have lost children.”
Life jacket manufacturer West Marine is already on board and has donated 100 units to the cause. So far, 30 jackets have been distributed at the lake where Christian was lost. Frechette would like to distribute 2,000 life jackets in the area annually. “If we could buy jackets at a discount, maybe we could give out 100,000 nationally a year,” he said.
To help raise funds, the foundation held the Christian E. Frechette Memorial Golf Classic last month. In March 2013, a local Harley ride will raise more revenue. Meanwhile, the foundation also is seeking grants.
Recently, Frechette went to Washington, D.C., to talk with Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown about taking the life jacket project nationwide. Frechette thinks it could grow to include city pools, and surely if anyone can make that happen, he can.
The father of four (with another due next month) still grieves for Christian. “I love my son more than life itself,” he said. “I feel him [here with us]. I hope I can save somebody.
I think that’s what he would want.”