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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I remember the morning being cold. I had arisen early to wash and clean the ambulance. We listened on the radio as our other unit received a call, and I chilled to hear the nature of the response. Without a word or hesitation, my partner and I scrambled to back up their call.

The living room was choked with men, some in fire bunker gear, some in police uniforms. As I brought additional equipment through the crowd, I saw the little boy lying lifeless on the stretcher, his pale skin tinged with blue at the lips.

The paramedic was a trainee, desperately trying to secure the boy's airway and push oxygen into his lungs. A fireman provided compressions to his heart. I glanced out into the back yard and saw an open gate and plastic sheeting strewn across the pool. It was obvious what had happened.

The mother stood paralyzed in the kitchen, unblinking eyes watching for the smallest sign of life. We did an EKG, inserted an IV and did CPR. We were out of the house with him in what seemed seconds, rushing him to the emergency room. Everything appeared to be going as it should.

In the emergency room, the staff moved quickly to treat the small body before them. After all efforts had been expended, the doctor raised a single hand and quietly said, "No."

Silence rippled across the room, even the machines falling quiet.

I walked out of the emergency room, past the parents who alternated between shouting accusations at each other and holding each other as waves of grief overcame them.

I called my brother that night, the one with three children and a big new house with a pool. He probably thought I was strange asking if the gate had been fixed yet.

I keep in touch with the paramedic on that scene, the one who held the boy's life in his hands as it ebbed away. After all these years, we still talk about that tragedy, and it sometimes plays out in our dreams.

Abby, please urge your readers to fence the pool and LOCK THE GATE to save the lives of their children. -- DAN BERGER, LANCASTER, CALIF.

DEAR DAN: I'm pleased to print your dramatic warning. Children are elusive, and it's impossible to watch them every minute. A child can drown in as little as 3 inches of water. Families with swimming pools MUST keep them fenced and securely locked. Otherwise, they are a tragedy waiting to happen.

DEAR ABBY: Your response to "Minneapolis Bride-to-Be," essentially affirming that it is acceptable for her to invite a former brother-in-law to her second wedding, was right on!

It should be the quality of the friendship, rather than some antiquated notion of propriety that guides such decisions.

My fiancee and I happily remain an active part of the lives of our former in-laws. They are good people with whom I developed a relationship over a period of several decades. We not only continue to celebrate holidays and birthdays together, but a table is always reserved for we "outlaws" (aka ex-spouses) at family weddings. -- THE MAN FROM MAINE

DEAR MAINE MAN: The "outlaws"? I love it!

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