Jacksonville city leaders working to safety-up retention ponds

Ju’Coby Pittman and LeAnna Cumber heard from first responders, DCPS, JFRD and more on ways to stop the drowning of children in retention ponds.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Councilmembers Ju’Coby Pittman and LeAnna Cumber are on a mission to stop the drownings of children in retention ponds.

“One too many children drowning is way too much,” Pittman told Action News Jax.

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On Tuesday, the committee they formed heard from Duval County Public Schools (DCPS), the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department (JFRD), a retention pond developer and the Northeast Florida Builders Association, to name a few.

There have been at least three drownings in Jacksonville in recent months. Some of the children have been on the autism spectrum, which was a point of concern for city and school leaders in Tuesday’s meeting. Many in the meeting pointed out that children on the spectrum tend to be drawn to water.

“Any time I hear of a child on the spectrum that passes away from this, it crushes me,” said Carrence Bass, founder and president of Making Strides for Autism.

Bass’ son is on the spectrum. Bass has been pushing to initiate a boots-on-the-ground approach for first responders looking for missing children.

JFRD says it works with JSO, and when a child is reported missing, fire crews flood the area, and first responders are assigned to all bodies of water.

“That couple of minutes can be life or death,” Bass added.

In the meeting, JFRD suggested implementing a call system to notify people on their cellphones if a child goes missing near a retention pond in their area.

Since the committee last met, DCPS has added warning signs near retention ponds by its schools.

The city has also helped by letting grass and bushes near its 255 retention ponds grow to create a natural buffer, deterring people from going to the water.

“Something has to be done now,” Bass told Action News Jax.

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For her, the changes are a step in the right direction.

The committee currently faces another challenge: every drowning has happened in privately-owned retention ponds, according to Cumber. The committee is working to come up with a way to safety-up those ponds as well by working with apartment owners and homeowners associations.

The committee plans to meet in the next 30 days.