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For 13 seasons, Emily Catherine Fedorko summered at the Westbrook family home in Stannard Beach, enjoying the water, the beach, and fishing with her dad. But there will be no 14th season. Emily was killed on Aug. 6, 2014 in a tragic tubing accident that might have been preventable.
Close family friends and Stannard Beach neighbors have joined forces to organize Walk for Emily on Saturday, Sept. 12 to raise funds for the Fedorkos’ new cause, the Emily Catherine Fedorko Foundation, and community awareness of the new boating and towing safety initiatives the foundation promotes.
“Our friends all loved Emily, she was a beautiful presence at our beach every summer and she is missed by everyone. They felt they wanted to do something in her memory and also raise money to help our foundation build awareness about water sport safety,” Pam and Joe Fedorko wrote in an email to the Harbor News. “Water sports, particularly tubing and inflatables, have become popular in our waters along the Connecticut coast and we feel that is important to educate people on how to do it safely.
And in just a year, the Fedorkos’ efforts to promote water sports safety have already yielded results. On June 4, 2015, Governor Dannel Malloy signed into law legislation known as Emily’s Law that includes new requirements designed to enhance boating and towing safety. It becomes effective on Oct. 1.
Emily’s Law sets a new minimum age requirement of 16 years for watercraft operators, with limited exceptions, and requires all operators to hold a valid U.S. Coast Guard issued vessel operator license and a Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) safe boating certificate or certificate of personal watercraft operation.
As the new law requires, DEEP is also updating its boating safety course material to include more extensive information on towing and safety precautions.
“Emily was very much a part of our community,” said family friend Jackie Lyman, a co-organizer of the Walk for Emily. “We are doing what we can do, moving forward to save lives so this tragedy doesn’t happen to other families.”
The Sept. 12 Walk for Emily will begin at Westbrook’s Town Beach on Seaside Avenue. Walkers should arrive at 8:15 a.m. to register; participants will line up at 8:45 a.m. with the first group ready to step off at 9 a.m. The rain date for the event is Sunday, Sept. 13.
Walkers will take Seaside Avenue to Emily Fedarko’s family home in Stannard Beach. At their home, volunteers will distribute water bottles and the raffle/door prize winners will be announced. The round-trip walk from the Westbrook Town Beach to the Fedarkos’ house and back again is four miles on level ground. Any interested shoreline area resident is invited to participate and support the cause. The entry fee is $5 and includes a turquoise-blue bandanna printed with the foundation motto, Turn it Off 4 Emily.
The phrase refers to a key safety precaution that anyone towing water skiiers or inflatables should take: Turn the boat engine off when turning the watercraft around to pick up a skier or tuber who has fallen in the water.
Also distributed for free at the walk will be boating safety packets that include special watercraft key floats to which is attached a laminated card with boat and towing safety reminders. The float key chains and bandannas are also available for sale on the Emily Catherine Fedorko Foundation website at http://emsway.org.
“Our goal [as a foundation] is to continue to create awareness and educate people in Connecticut and [to] broaden our mission nationally. We have participated in the Progressive Javits Center Boat Show in New York City and will be at the Progressive South Norwalk Boat Show on Sept. 24 to 27. We have partnered with Discover Boating NMMA to help promote safety in towing,” Pam and Joe Fedarko wrote.
The foundation also is sponsoring a seminar at the Progressive South Norwalk Boat Show that will include an on-water demonstration of safe towing techniques. The foundation will also unveil at the boat show a new tubing and inflatable safety video it sponsored and developed with the help of the Water Sports Industry Association.
In the family letter posted on the foundation webpage, Pam and Joe explain their goals for the foundation and its work: “We wish to enhance our community’s knowledge of recreational boating to help save someone’s life. We formed the Emily Catherine Fedorko Foundation in Emily’s memory to help everyone remember her. Thank you to all for your support.”
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