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Turning pain into purpose: Fort Worth coalition fights to prevent children drowning deaths

Alex Ritzhaupt, left, and Aaron Conrad, right, set up a lifeguard post in the middle of the Forest Park Pool on Jan. 8.
Cristian ArguetaSoto
Fort Worth Report
Alex Ritzhaupt, left, and Aaron Conrad, right, set up a lifeguard post in the middle of the Forest Park Pool on Jan. 8.

Tara Reed lost two close friends to drowning in her youth.

One fell asleep in a bathtub and the other never resurfaced after jumping off a boat.

Now as the Fort Worth Drowning Prevention Coalition executive director, Reed wants to ensure Tarrant County residents don’t have to go through what she did.

With the help of the city of Fort Worth and YMCA of Metropolitan Fort Worth, the coalition is offering classes to teach children how to be safe when in or near water.

The YMCA and city government will provide the Swim Safe program with four locations and lifeguards for the courses. At the end of each session, participants will be given a free life jacket.

The course is $10. You can register here.

The course will be offered in Fort Worth at:

  • William M. Mcdonald YMCA, 2701 Moresby St.
  • YMCA Camp Carter, 6200 Sand Springs Road
  • Ryan Family YMCA, 8250 McCart Ave.
  • Marine Park Pool & Aquatic Center, 303 NW 20th St.

Most people involved in the coalition have dealt with similar experiences, Reed said.

“A lot of these organizations don’t start because of greatness — it’s because of pain,” Reed said. “You’re turning that pain into purpose.”

‘It only takes two seconds’

Water techniques, such as how to submerge and swim to get out of a body of water, and being alert when in or near water will be taught in the sessions.

“You want to learn how to survive in the water,” Reed said.

So far in 2023, 20 children have died from drowning in Texas, including two in Tarrant County, according to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. The county has a population of more than 2.1 million residents, according to the latest U.S. census.

“We’re already nervous about the numbers increasing,” Reed said. “But we also try to compare it to the population size. We don’t want to make it an alarming number.”

Nevertheless, one drowning death is too many for Reed.

In 2022, nine Tarrant County children died from drowning, most of which happened in backyard pools, according to state data.

The main reason for backyard pool drownings is because of the lack of supervision and proper water safety equipment, such as life jackets, Reed said.

“It only takes two seconds for something tragic to happen,” she said.

City Council member helping

Fort Worth City Council member Chris Nettles knows the risk of drowning can put a damper on what is supposed to be a fun time for children.

“I encourage all residents looking forward to spending time in the water this summer to please attend the many water safety training courses provided by Fort Worth Drowning Prevention Coalition,” Nettles said.

His office is committed to putting in place more safety regulations to prevent drowning deaths within Fort Worth, Nettles said.

Fort Worth aquatics staff have water safety talks at community centers throughout the year, according to a city spokesperson.

Nettles understands the importance of preventing drowning deaths.

“Drowning is a global epidemic. And while the root causes may differ along geographic and demographic lines, the deaths are all preventable,” Nettles added.

Juan Salinas II is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here. Read more about our editorial independence policy here

Juan Salinas II previously worked at the Fort Worth Report as a reporting fellow. He is a Tarrant County College transfer student who is currently studying journalism at the University of Texas at Arlington. He was born and raised in the North Side of Fort Worth. He hopes for an opportunity to do meaningful news coverage during his time at KERA.