Mother Seeks stronger safety laws

Pool and Spa News
October 23, 1998



The mother of an 11-year-old Kansas City, Mo., girl who became trapped in a pool drain and drowned has vowed to mount a campaign for legislation to prevent the conditions that caused the tragedy.

Kelsey Ruwe died two days after her leg became stuck in a 7-inch swimming pool drainpipe at the Sherwood Bible Church last month. She and her friends had been diving for coins and had moved an unfastened 35-pound grate to retrieve one. Her leg became stuck in the drain and the water pressure was so great that she could not be freed for 25 minutes, despite the efforts of lifeguards and firefighters.

Kelsey’s mother, Katie Cetto-Ruwe, told The Kansas City Star, "I am going to do something about this. What happened to Kelsey should never have happened. I do not want another family to have to go through a tragedy like this."

Cetto-Ruwe, who has filed a lawsuit against the church, said she intends to mount a national campaign to pass what she calls "Kelsey’s Law" to regulate pool pump pressure and ensure that drain covers can not be removed.

One Kansas City pool builder was so rattled by the incident that he sent letters to his commercial accounts encouraging them to check their main drain covers.

"We sent out letters saying the main drain lids should be screwed on," said Roger Banks, president of Banks Pool and Spa Designs in Kansas City. "We told them we would be right out there if there was a problem." Banks said all his pool designs incorporate two main drains. "Most of the architects and engineers are very specific about dual main drains," he said.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission last year approved a set of safety guidelines for in ground pools and spas. The document, Guidelines for Addressing potential Entrapment Hazards Associated with Swimming Pools and Spas, called for a minimum of two drains per pump, retrofitted into existing in ground pools and spas.

A recent study commissioned by the National Swimming Pool Foundation made similar recommendations and the National Spa & Pool institute plans to revise its public pool standard ANS/NSPI-1 to include Language calling for two main drains, as well as safe levels for pump pressure and water velocity.

Michael Goss, president of Caribbean Pools in Kansas City, was installing a main drain in a pool adjacent to the church the day the tragedy took place.

"We were about 100 feet from it when it was happening and we had no idea what was going on." Goss said. "We all felt bad. If we had heard yelling or screaming, we could have gone over and figured out how to shut the damn [pumps] down."

Goss suggested hat NSPI regions should send homeowners information packets that address safety concerns, maintenance information, and NSPI dealer lists.

Several devices have entered the market recently that monitor the vacuum level of a swimming pool’s plumbing system and disable the suction if someone becomes trapped. Such products, however, have not met widespread acceptance in the industry.

Carvin DiGiovanni, director of technical and education service for NSPI, said a new product must prove itself before it can be adopted into the trade group's  standards.

"We don’t test or approve products," he said. "We try to make sure our standards are flexible enough for new technology to be applied. If the track record is there, it will be acceptable."

DiGiovanni said the tragedy in Kansas City, like many others, could have been avoided if safety measures had been followed. "The accidents we reviewed show they would not have happened if the standards were maintained, such as having drain covers securely fastened.’ he said.

According Jay Walters, public health specialist and  field supervisor  for he Kansas City Department of Health, the city requires two main drains on new pools. but "on older ones, there is generally only one drain."

Walters also said the city mandates that main drain grates not be readily removable and public pools require inspection every 30 days. The Sherwood Bible Church pool had passed a code inspection in July.




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