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Could Florida Safe Pools succeed where other drowning prevention campaigns have fallen short?

Officials with the new initiative — which saw a soft launch over Labor Day weekend  — hope this latest effort will strike a chord among homeowners. Currently, Florida is No. 1 in the nation for drowning deaths of children under the age of 5.

“We’re trying to focus on [a message] that’s a lot friendlier while still driving people to change,” said Pat Vines, rescue program coordinator at St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue, one of the campaign’s community partners.

“We’ve had these types of things before,” he added. “But in the past they’ve always seemed to take that scare tactic and play off shock value.”

The campaign is funded through a grant of nearly $200,000 from the Florida Department of Health, and is spearheaded by All Children’s Hospital and Safe Kids Florida Suncoast.

A number of media outlets are participating as well, according to Jean Shoemaker, Safe Kids coordinator at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg.

Most activities so far have involved an online presence and radio programming through Cox Media. But Shoemaker and others envision a broad effort incorporating various public- and private-sector partners, including those in the pool and spa industry.

“We’re trying to get everyone to convey a consistent message,” Vines said. “It’s really going to take a buy-in from everybody who has any type of interest in pool safety.”

Historically, drowning-prevention groups often have had strained relationships with the pool and spa industry.

Water-safety organizations sometimes claim that builders, service technicians and retailers are focused on the bottom line at the cost of protecting lives. For their part, pool and spa professionals have accused advocacy groups of promoting needless and ineffective legislation.

Thus, industry insiders are closely watching Florida Safe Pools to determine how the group will present itself to the public, as well as what, if any, input the trade will have in helping craft the group’s mission.

To that end, David Oxley, the Florida Swimming Pool Association’s safety chairman, has met with representatives from the group on three separate occasions. And Vines recently attended an FSPA meeting in an effort to lay groundwork for an alliance.

“We’re really trying to forge a partnership,” Vines said. “It will take time; the pool industry and drowning-prevention advocates don’t always get along. “But we’re hoping that can change once we prove we’re taking a more open approach.”

For more information, visit the group’s Website at www.floridasafepools.com.