Chattanooga: Drownings prompt safety changes at pools

Chattanooga: Drownings prompt safety changes at pools

May 13th, 2009 by Adam Crisp in News

PDF: Pool Safety Law

Suction on some pool drains is so great, it may pose an injury risk to children.

So a new federal rule - the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act - requires that all public pools and spas be fitted with devices that displace the suction.

In the region, several pools didn't comply, but parks and recreation leaders said they plan to retrofit their pools with grates and other suction-displacement devices by Memorial Day, the traditional start of the summer swimming season.

"The Virginia Graeme Baker Act was designed to prevent entrapment on any of the pool drains," said Peggy Grall, city of Chattanooga aquatics coordinator. "A lot of the act pertains to single-drain pools in a facility, and we do have one single-drain pool in the city, but we have opted to close that pool for the summer."

The City of Chattanooga operates three outdoor pools - one at Warner Park and two at Carver Recreation Center. The only pool that didn't comply with the new rule was a small wading pool at Carver Recreation, and it has been closed rather than making repairs to it.

"That small wading pool doesn't really get much use, so rather than spend a lot of money to comply, we've just opted to close it this year," said Larry Zehnder, city parks and recreation administrator.

The wading pool may be scheduled for repairs or an overhaul in coming years, Mr. Zehnder said.

"We may make some improvements that make it even more enjoyable for the youngsters," Mr. Zehnder said. "But we are going to comply with these new rules as best we can."

In North Georgia, Dalton officials paid about $1,500 per pool to comply with the law. In Cleveland, Tenn., officials shelled out about $9,000 per pool to get into compliance.

Some pools required more work than others to achieve compliance, officials said.

The changes were spurred by the 2002 death of Miss Baker, according to the Web site for Safe Kids USA. Seven-year-old Virginia died at a family friend's graduation party after being pinned to the bottom of a hot tub by hundreds of pounds of suction from the drain.

Safe Kids reports Virginia was held so tightly by the suction, it took two grown men to pull her off.

The child's mother, Nancy Baker, lobbied Congress for regulations that could prevent such drownings. Virginia was the granddaughter of former Secretary of State James Baker.

Ms. Grall said the larger pools at both Chattanooga complexes will open during the last week of May. The city's two indoor pools are open year-round, and they did not require repairs, she said.

Warner Park opens May 25, and Carver opens May 28. Swimming lessons begin June 2 at Warner Park. The costs is $30 for eight sessions.

"Right now, we are pressure-washing the Carver pool," Ms. Grall said. "We're digging out the bottom of the pool now, getting out the dead leaves and debris from the winter.

"We'll have our painter and our plaster guy come in and fix all the tiles and paint any patches that we have."