While some parents might balk at the notion that a child as young as 2 months old should be taught how to swim, Saf-T-Swim of Levittown owner and founder Jim Hazen offers some sobering information that may have you thinking twice about its importance.
“Backyard pool drowning is the second-leading cause of death of children under the age of 5 and people don’t understand that it’s a quick, silent death…it’s not like on television where they splash around and call for help. They go straight down, the water fills their lungs and you don’t hear a thing,” he said. “So it’s vital to teach kids how to stay calm and paddle over to the side or even turn over and float on their back if they fall in the water. We like to start children at 2 or 3 months old. They don’t fear water, as they haven’t been conditioned to fear it yet. They’re still used to having been in a sack of fluid for nine months, so it’s the best time to start.”
Saf-T-Swim of Levittown, located at 210 Gardiners Ave., is a swimming school that teaches all ages—anyone and everyone that needs to learn lifesaving skills around water—but focuses on the younger set. One of 12 locations across Long Island, Saf-T-Swim was founded back in 1984 by Hazen, a Miller Place resident, who said that he opened their first location in Bay Shore after receiving a scare with a young relative of his.
“At the time we were taking my 5-month-old son to learn to swim at a place called Water Babies in Coram, which is now our second location, and one day we were in my backyard and my young nephew had jumped the fence and almost fell into my neighbor’s above-ground pool,” he said. “I said to myself that we needed to have more swim schools on Long Island. I had an athletic background and had been a lifeguard, so I did some research and my brother and I found a landlord in Bay Shore who was willing to help us. After a ton of work and installing the pool, we opened the first Saf-T-Swim.”
The school was an immediate success, but while Hazen entertained the concept of opening additional locations, it wasn’t until eight years later when it finally happened. Water Babies, where his son had learned to swim years before, was going out of business and asked Hazen to buy them out. He did, and from there, Saf-T-Swim continued to expand its scope across Long Island. Levittown, the most recent addition to their watery empire, opened in November 2014 and has been enjoying a great deal of support from the community ever since.
Formally a Ford dealership, the makeover of the Levittown location—coming in at 10,000-sq. ft. with a 60-foot pool, changing and locker rooms, and even a one-way mirrored waiting room for parents to covertly watch their kids train—required much elbow grease, but the end result is something he’s proud of.
Lessons are on a one-on-one basis with parental participation optional and, if started early enough, kids as young as 2 or even younger can make it across a pool on their very own and even hold their breath underwater for 30-40 seconds.
Stephanie Aber of Levittown has been bringing her children Joey, 9, and Julia, 3, to Saf-T-Swim ever since they first opened their doors and said that getting her kids used to navigating the water on their own is one of the most important things a parent can do.
“I brought my son here because he didn’t know how to swim well and I had noticed during the summer that my son really wasn’t swimming as much as his friends when they would hang out. And I didn’t want to make the same mistake with my daughter, so I got her in right away as well,” she said. “I think this place is wonderful. My daughter hated it at first and she cried every day, but now she absolutely loves it and can’t wait to come. She’s learned so much. If she went into the pool right now she’d be able to swim to the side and pull herself out and at just 3 years old, that’s great.”
Given how dangerous water can be for the uninitiated, Hazen said it’s the sense of security that his instructors provide to the children of the communities that Saf-T-Swim serves that makes his job so immensely satisfying.
“It’s just such a nice feeling when a parent comes to you and tells you that their child fell in a pool and made it out on their own unharmed. We have people telling us stories like that all the time,” he said. “I love what we do, I’m very passionate about it and it’s a wonderful feeling to know you’re providing a community service, a life service like that.” To find out more, visit www.saf-t-swim.com .