The Shelbyville City Council this week discussed the policy on flotation devices at the Shelbyville Family Aquatic Center after a child nearly drowned over the summer.

On July 17, a young Shelbyville family visited the pool, bringing a flotation device called a puddle jumper for their 2-year-old. According to Brandon Walker, they were told flotation devices were not allowed in the pool. They entered and played with their daughter without a flotation device in the gradual slope of the shallow end where the toddlers play.

Also that day, Dan and Rebecca Mullner of Mokena and their kids were visiting Lake Shelbyville.

According to Dan Mullner, they had boat trouble and had to find something else to do that day. So they went to the pool and were enjoying a perfect day.

“Simultaneously, my husband, Dan, and I focused in on the shallow end of the pool, opposite to where we were enjoying the moment. We recognized a mother scoop up her lifeless child from the pool,” Rebecca Mullner recalled.

Dan Mullner is a full-time firefighter and Rebecca Mullner is a nurse.

“We watched as the woman tried to hand her limp child from the pool to the lifeguard,” Rebecca Mullner said. “We intervened, knowing that seconds count, instructing the lifeguard to call 911 and started to assess the situation and to provide immediate life-saving measures to this cyanotic, pulseless and not breathing child.”

“My wife and I performed CPR on the child that was found to be pulseless and not breathing,” Dan Mullner said. “The actions taken for the child had an amazing result. She is doing great and has no deficits.”

Despite the near-death drowning, Sarah Walker calls it a “God thing” that the Mullners, both emergency professionals for 25 years, were there to save her daughter, Kennedy.

“Drowning is the leading cause of death in children 1-4,” Rebecca Mullner said. “Drowning is silent. Children can drown right in front of parents as little as a few feet away. Rescuers have seconds to save a person from drowning.”

It takes only 20 seconds for a child to drown, according to the USACE (United States Army Corps of Engineers).

“This could have been prevented,” Rebecca Mullner said. “As many of you know, Shelbyville Family Aquatic Center does not allow personal flotation devices. I’m not talking about noodles, rafts or water wings. I’m talking about US Coast Guard Approved Personal Flotation devices.

“Community pools and water parks all over our state and across the nation have considered this and made changes that prioritize safety and allow PFDs. Chicagoland area community pools and their suburbs alike, as well as Springfield, Champaign and Decatur are just a few pools that they too have prioritized safety.”

At the Effingham Kluthe Memorial Pool, at 1200 North Maple Street, Effingham, some flotation devices are allowed, but they must be U.S. Coast Guard approved.

This policy has been in effect for several years in Effingham, the director said on Thursday.

Jeff Althoff, executive director of the Effingham Park District, which oversees the public swimming pool, said children are allowed pre-approved flotation devices.

“We do allow some flotation devices, but not all of them,” said Althoff. “The kind that make kids float on their backs and keeps their head above water is allowed. But we don’t allow the inflatable kind that just slips over their arms. They must fit around the child’s chest and clip in the back.”

Althoff described one such as the Stearns Original Puddle Jumper Life Jackets that are tested and approved by the U.S. Coast Guard for near or in the water use.

He said these are made of life vest material and won’t slide off a child, if properly fitted. Althoff said some tubes are rentable at the public pool, but cannot be brought into the pool from home, because of overcrowding issues.

Similarly, at the Richard E. Workman Sports & Wellness Complex in Effingham, certain pre-approved flotation devices are allowed.

Mermaid tales and rafts are not allowed. The colorful foam noodles are OK. But for children, the US Coast Guard tested and approved style that fits across the chest and clips in the back are allowed, said Patti Smith, general manager.

Smith said they don’t allow mermaid tales because it makes it difficult for a child to get their feet beneath them.

“If a child cannot swim at all, they are required to have a life jacket on them while in the water,” said Smith.

Back in Shelbyville, Rebecca Mullner suggested a change in policy for the Shelbyville Family Aquatic Center.

“There could have been a very different outcome that day in July when baby Kennedy was pulled from the water,” she said. “One simple way to prevent another drowning or near-death event is to allow parents to have the option to place a PFD on their child.”

Rebecca Mullner said they have been working with Park Commissioner Mark Shanks, who is also on the Shelby County Dive Team, concerning this policy change.

Shanks explained that when the pool was built, Burbach Aquatics recommended the common wisdom of the day not to allow flotation devices at the pool. It has been the policy ever since.

Shanks has checked with insurance and others about which is safer, flotation devices or no flotation devices. No definitive answer has been given to him. Flotation devices must be worn properly for the right size child to ensure safety and some flotation devices obstruct the view of lifeguards on duty watching for children under water.

The Shelbyville Family Aquatic Center is closed until next spring. The Mullners and the Walkers still hope to see a change in the policy with an effort they call “Kennedy Cares.” The city council has pledged to come up with an answer before the next swimming season.

Shanks said they would like to form a committee to come up with an answer. Mayor Jeff Johnson asked Shanks to get a list of people to be on the committee.

“It makes sense to allow parents the option of flotation devices at the pool,” Johnson said.

Dawn Schabbing can be reached at or 217-347-7151, ext 138.


Dawn Schabbing is a senior reporter at the Effingham Daily News, covering Effingham City Hall, Unit 40, and special projects. A graduate of Lake Land College and Eastern Illinois University with degrees in journalism, she lives in Neoga.

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