Hemet, California — It happened in a matter of seconds. Security video showed 18-month-old Cole Petite shimmying out of his life preserver.
He then walked over to the family pool in Winchester, California, and slipped beneath the surface of the water.
“Just like a bag of bricks, just straight down to the bottom,” his father, Zachary Petite, told News.
Petite was just feet away, putting sunblock on his daughter. He made a dive for his son and rescued him from the water.
“I think that I acted in any way that any normal parent would’ve reacted,” Petite said.
As a firefighter in nearby Hemet — which is located about 80 miles east of downtown Los Angeles — Petite has responded to drownings before. So at home, he has a pool fence and motion detectors.
“If I had gone inside, ‘Hey, I’m gonna go grab something to drink real quick, I’m gonna go use the restroom.’ That small amount of time could have been the difference between, you know, us planning a funeral or not,” Petite said.
An estimated 4,000 deaths per year in the U.S. are caused by unintentional drownings, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is one of the leading killers of children ages 1 to 4, with most drownings occurring in home swimming pools, the CDC says.
The American Lifeguard Association (ALA) reported that half of the nation’s 309,000 public pools could be forced to close or reduce their hours due to a lifeguard shortage.
“They’re not going to have a place to go and they’re going to start seeking out lakes, ponds, levies, waterway canals,” said Wyatt Werneth, an ALA spokesperson. “There’s no lifeguard there, and we’re gonna see more drownings as a result of it.”
Petite and the Hemet Fire Department posted home security camera video of the rescue to social media in the hopes of educating parents about water safety.
“I think if it ends up making a parent, making one parent, pay just a little bit more attention, and saves one kid from drowning, and then our message was successful,” Petite said.