Speaking with a reporter on Aug. 22, Hal Landis hesitated over his words, struggling to express the positive.
“We agreed to put his name and his face to this, so that something — something good — can come out of something so bad,” he said.
The next evening, he and his wife, Erica, were present at Jonathan Dayton High School in Springfield to receive a proclamation from the township committee naming a recently adopted regulation on pool safety “Noah’s Ordinance.”
It honors the memory of their 21-month-old son who drowned July 10 last year. It is designed, according to committeeman Marc Krauss, to ensure that no other child in Springfield dies that way.
The regulation requires that all new private pools be surrounded on all sides by a fence with a lockable gate. The wall of a house can provide the barrier on one side, but only if the wall has no windows or doors.
The couple, who used to live in Westfield, now lives in Cranford. Hal told their story to the township committee in Cranford last week, and in September it plans to issue a similar ordinance. The Landises are hoping to take the campaign further, to other communities.
Last summer, the family was in the process of moving into the home of Erica’s father, Albie Kornspan, in Springfield. Erica’s mother, Paula, had passed away a few months earlier and they had thought it would be comfort and company for her father.
Noah was playing with his Elmo camera and blocks in the living room, which had French doors leading out to a back garden and the pool. The adults were out of the room for just a few minutes bringing in boxes, and came back to find him gone. “The French doors were closed, but the first thing I did was go outside to look for him,” Hal said. “I saw him in the pool.” It was already too late.
‘Others will be helped’
Krauss, who has a toddler of his own, said the state Child Fatality and Near Fatality Board, which reviews all such incidents, contacted the Springfield Township Committee after Noah’s death and instructed the township to strengthen its regulations. It responded within weeks.
“They didn’t mention Noah by name,” Krauss said. “They just mentioned the date and his initials, N.L.”
The Landises would have been none the wiser, but the couple belongs to Temple Emanu-El, the Reform congregation in Westfield, and attend Friday night services there. Three weeks ago, as they were leaving the temple, they stopped to talk with Cantor Martha Novick, who lives in Springfield. She mentioned that she is planning to install a swimming pool and had been informed of the new regulation and its connection to a toddler’s death last summer. She immediately made the connection.
Hal said, “It was numbing at first; I was blown away. But it does feel good to know maybe other people will be helped by this.”
They approached Krauss and told him, “We’re the ones whose child drowned.” They agreed to let Noah’s name and face be used to publicize the ordinance. “If it has more impact than a number would have had, so more people take notice of it, then we’re glad to help,” Hal said.
The ordinance doesn’t apply to existing pools, at least not yet. Hal is hoping that will be changed. As for the cost of fencing with a lockable gate, he said, “If you can afford a pool, surely you can afford a fence to make it safe.”
To gather support for the measure in Springfield and other communities, Hal established a website, facebook.com/NoahsOrdinance. Krauss and the Landises have also met with Assemblywoman Nellie Pou (D-Dist. 35), who has been trying for the past three years to get the state to pass stricter pool safety legislation.
Noah was a strong kid, “a water baby,” according to his father, with a passion for water anywhere — in the bath tub, in the ocean, and in a pool. He was accustomed to having his parents nearby and jumping in, safe with his water wings on. He would have headed for that pool sure of pleasure ahead.
There is one point Hal Landis brandishes like a torch: “I can’t emphasize this enough,” he said. “It only takes a moment for something like this to happen. You have to make sure a child can’t get to the water alone.”