Miami, FL

Getting Familiar in the Water: Progressive Firefighters Host Annual Learn To Swim Program.

Clayton Gutzmore

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Photo by Eric Goodman Local 1403

By Clayton Gutzmore

Summertime is the season of the year where everyone wants to get in the water. With children being released from school in June, plenty of kids will be making their way to the pool or the beach. With this in mind, parents want to prepare their children for any aquatic activity. The Progressive Firefighters Association (PFA) is hosting a free learn to swim program this summer for kids in Liberty City. Off-duty firefighters will be in the water educating kids on the fundamentals of swimming.

PFA along with the Miami Dolphins and Dolphins offensive guard Solomon Kindley has assembled a seven-week curriculum that will make the participants a great swimmer at the end of the program, “Kids learning how to swim is important. We want them to learn the basics. After this camp, they will be able to save a life if it comes down to it’ said Solomon Kindley.

The Learn to Swim Program kicked off Saturday, June 12. The program accepts kids ages 6-16 and it will run from June 14 to July 30. Classes for the swim program will be held at the Miller J and Nancy S. Dawkins Olympic Pool Complex in Miami. PFA started the program in 2013. The organization wanted to reduce the drowning rates in Florida. The sunshine state currently has the highest in the nation, ”As first responders, sometimes we can save the kids from drowning and sometimes we can't. When we are unable to save them, it hits home. Most of the calls we get involving kids drowning we, unfortunately, find them at the bottom of the pool,” said Keith Bell, Captain of Miami Dade Fire Rescue and President of PFA.

According to Bell, brain cells die within four to six minutes without oxygen. If the child is underwater longer than six minutes, there is a slim chance of survival. PFA wants to make the kids in the program drown-proof and make a dent in the drowning rates.

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Photo by Eric Goodman Local 1403

In the program, kids will learn the basics like blowing bubbles and learning how to kick. Then they progress to more advanced techniques like treading water and freestyle swimming. The firefighters will also teach water safety tips. One tip Bell further explained is reach, throw, but don't go. This teaches the kids when they come across someone drowning in the water they find something to throw or extend to the person before they get in themselves

“We teach the kids not to go in because if someone is drowning they are going to pull you down out of panic so they don't drown. We teach them to find whatever they can get to reach that individual but never go in and grab a drowning person,” said Bell.

The kids who complete the program and pass the final test are rewarded with a certificate and the opportunity to come back next summer as an instructor. The firefighters hire the kids who commit to being an instructor.

“The myth that we have is that Black kids can't swim. I find that the problem is we don't teach Black kids how to swim."-Gerome Byrd Sr. head swim instructor.

Passing the final test isn't an easy feat. The swim program matches the same training routine for Miami Dade Fire Rescue. The final test of the PFA Learn To Swim program is even tougher than the fire department. The participants are placed in 16 feet of water. They need to swim for 150 yards, freestyle swim for 25 yards, and tread water for 10 mins with the last min treading with their hands out of water. “Our curriculum is from the American Red Cross. I cherry-pick all of the routines that will benefit the kids. This takes them from non-swimmers to swimmers” said Jerome Byrd Sr, retired captain of Miami-Dade Fire Department and head instructor of PFA’s Learn to Swim Program.

Byrd has been teaching people how to swim since 1998. He trains both kids in the community and firefighter recruits who struggle with the department's swim test. He wants to eliminate the stigma of Black people not knowing how to swim, “The myth that we have is that Black kids can't swim. I find that the problem is we don't teach black kids how to swim. How we introduce them to the water will determine how they become good swimmers,” said Byrd.

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Photo by Eric Goodman Local 1403

PFA’s vision of expansion for the program is to build swim teams in the inner city. Bell and company want to launch the program at more inner-city pools, teach more kids how to swim, and assemble swim teams so they can compete against one another. PFA wants to use swimming as a vehicle for inner-city kids to reach college and beyond, “If you look around there are no swim teams in the inner city. These kids are not exposed to swimming. Our ultimate goal is to teach them how to swim and have them go to colleges off of swimming scholarships,” said Bell. PFA’s Learn to Swim Program aims to change the lives of many through the art of swimming. The organization will show the kids and the parents that this activity is more than just a sport, “Swimming is not just a sport, It is a life-saving skill. We put our heart and soul into this program. These kids deserve an opportunity to learn water safety whether they can afford it or not,” said Bell. For more information about the program, log on to pfacharities.org.

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Clayton Gutzmore is a freelance journalist in South Florida. His work has been published in several print outlets including The Miami Times, The Miami Herald, The Atlanta Voice, and Variety Magazine. Gutzmore is a 2016 graduate of Florida International University. He is also a member of the National Association of Black Journalists, The Online News Association and Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc.

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