Drowning victim’s sister promotes water safety | Neighbors | #childsafety | #kids | #chldern | #parents | #schoolsafey

Edgemont High School sophomore Samantha Pfeffer will never forget finding her then-2.5-year-old sister Saige face down in the pool at a vacation home when she herself was just 8 years old in 2015. Despite a quick rush to action by the family and the best efforts of medical professionals, who got her heart beating, Saige was pronounced dead two days later.

Saige found her way into the pool while the family was packing their car to go to the beach.

“She kind of just slipped away from us,” Samantha said. “We were all watching her and then just a second later no one could find her. I ran and I found her in the pool. It was terrible. Running up to the water and finding her was unreal.”

“It was like one minute,” mom Heather Landau said.

It was the minute that changed their lives.

Harley, Saige and Samantha Pfeffer

The Pfeffer family became an unfortunate statistic, as drowning is the leading cause of accidental death for kids ages 1-4, with about 4,000 per year and thousands more near-fatal incidents. The family is determined, however, to save others from suffering the same fate as they founded the Spreading Smiles for the Saige Foundation, which later was renamed the Water Guardian Foundation ( and was largely taken over by Samantha for her bat mitzvah project three years ago.

“Knowing what this feels like, if I can stop at least one more person from feeling this overall grief that me and my family have gone through, then I’ll know that I’ve made a difference,” Samantha said.

Of Saige, Samantha said, “She had the biggest smile. That’s what I remember.”

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Parents Daniel and Heather with Saige, Samantha and Harley.

The foundation has raised more than $400,000 for water safety initiatives, but more importantly has focused on educating people on the importance of assigning someone to keep an eye on the pool at all times, even when kids aren’t swimming. The Water Guardian tags are key to this mission.

Samantha said the tags are “tools used to designate someone as the guardian around the children or anybody who is near the water.” She added, “Our idea was to make these tags so people remember never to lose sight of the children.”

Thus far 5,000 tags have been given out and the family is ready to give out more of these important reminders.

“Everybody thinks they’re watching the child, but there has to be one specific person watching children when they’re around water at any given time,” Heather said.

Samantha became a lifeguard and is working on becoming a water safety instructor. Both of her parents had been lifeguards when they were teens.

“I think I would have become a lifeguard either way, but this happening has led me to take more initiative and spend more time lifeguarding,” Samantha said. “I think this whole situation has impacted me to dive deeper into drowning prevention.”

The family lived in New York City prior to moving to Edgemont in December 2016, shifting their efforts to helping prevent drowning in the suburbs. One of the ways they’ve been helping more recently is working with Dobbs Ferry’s Brianne Keefe, a certified Infant Swim Resource instructor ( who works mainly out of the JCC of Mid-Westchester and teaches kids ages 6 months to 6 years old how to self-rescue.

“They teach kids how to swim and how to save themselves if they find themselves in the water alone,” Samantha said. “We thought that was a really great organization, so we’ve been sponsoring kids to teach themselves how to save themselves with strategies to float on their backs.”

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The Water Guardian tags are a reminder to keep eyes on children near water at all times.

Keefe is the mother of two, including a 16-year-old who is on the autism spectrum. She initially wanted to find ways to keep him safe around water, but there was no ISR to turn to, as it is not as prominent in this part of the country. Since her son now swims on three teams in Westchester County, it was her impulsive 4-year-old, who was born in 2020, whom she now worries about. After her sister-in-law became an ISR instructor in Boston, Keefe decided to follow suit and about a year later she had all of the “very rigorous” classroom and pool training, all based around behavioral science and anatomy, done and started teaching.

Some of the families who seek ISR have lost a child to drowning. Others have a pool in their yard and want to take the class as a precaution. Many have kids who will enter the water not understanding the hazards.

ISR is six weeks of training five days a week for 10 minutes a day. It’s not a typical swim lesson.

“By the time they are done they are fully independent in the water,” Keefe said. “A child who is 6 months and independently sitting up to about 13 months will, upon getting into the water, roll over and get onto their backs and float, rest and breathe until an adult can come and pick them up. A confident walker until 6 years old will swim, float, rest, breathe to the wall or the steps, a point of safety, until an adult can get them. It’s a really incredible process to see these young kids who are under 2 years old swimming across the pool. It’s really impressive.”

Keefe said there are many misconceptions about ISR.

“It’s a very gradual process and you start off slow,” she said. “It’s not what people think, that you’re throwing a kid in the water and watching them swim. [We have] very meticulously planned strategies that help the kids maintain themselves independently in the water.”

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Brianne Keefe during an ISR class.

She said it can be mentally challenging for little ones and their parents, which is why the classes are so short and intense, as it’s quality work over quantity, especially since young ones don’t have a long attention span.

Keefe talks through her process as she’s doing it so older children and the parents can understand what’s happening. The babies will certainly cry as that is their primary way of communicating, and parents are expected only to be involved as “cheerleaders,” avoiding any negativity or trigger words.

“They’re being asked to do something out of the arms of their mom,” Keefe said. “I’m a complete stranger to them and they’re being asked to do something that’s very challenging. As soon as I pick them up and put them back on the pool deck next to Mom, it’s like silence.”

The one-on-one classes cost $35 per lesson, which adds up to $1,050 for a six-week program, which is the length it takes 95% of kids to graduate.

“I would say it’s a commitment,” Keefe said. “It’s an investment in your child’s safety and it’s only six weeks. If you can reserve the time for that six weeks, and that’s what you’re dedicated to, you’ll be very happy with the results. In terms of the emotions you have to look at it like a car seat. You put them in the car seat so they’re safe. If they scream and yell and kick and scream, you still have to do it. Especially if you have a pool in your backyard or a pond or a reservoir it is worth the kicking and screaming, which eventually turns into giggles and laughs, it’s worth it.”

It’s always safety first, fun second. And once a child has completed the ISR program they can take regular swim lessons to work on strokes and they won’t need the crutch of flotation devices.

Keefe has offered scholarships, including a recent one to those in military service in honor of her grandfather who was in the U.S. Navy for seven years and who recently died at the age of 94. The Pfeffers have provided scholarships through their foundation as well.

Keefe supports the Water Guardian message as one of the many precautions that can be taken for safety.

“You don’t have your phone, you don’t have a drink, that is your one job — to watch the children,” she said. “ISR says there are layers of protection and Water Guardians would be one of them. Others are locks and alarms on your pool fence. ISR is another layer of protection. The color of your swimsuit would be another layer. There’s all these things you can do to keep your children safe.”

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Saige Pfeffer


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