Mother of Virginia Graeme Baker, entrapment victim.

Written Submission from Nancy Baker
Jul 27 2004 12:00AM

 

Office of the Secretary
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
Washington, D.C. 20207


Re: Written Submission of Nancy Baker for the Commissions Public Hearing on July 27, 2004 in Phoenix, Arizona on suction entrapment.

     Good morning, my name is Nancy Baker and I would like to thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to speak to you about the issue of swimming pool and spa drain suction entrapment and the scores of children that are killed, maimed or disabled every year by this completely preventable event.

     On June 15, 2002, my daughter, Graeme died. She was 7 years old when her life ended. Her death certificate lists her cause of death a drowning. My child did not die in an accidental drowning. She was killed when she became stuck on the drain of a swimming pool spa. This drain had so much suction force that it took two adult males all of their strength to pull her from the drain.

     Graeme was a strong and beautiful and healthy child. She was a member of our community swim and dive team who had been swimming unassisted since she was 3 years old. Her abilities as a swimmer are not what caused her to lose her life.

     On that day in June, I took my five daughters to a graduation party being hosted by the family of a young man that my family knew. The party took place outdoors and was centered around my friend's pool/spa in their backyard. Graeme had come to the party dressed in her bathing suit and immediately entered the pool. Her sisters had gone inside to change so they could go swimming too. After being at the party for a short time, I looked for Graeme and noticed she was not in the pool. A short time later, my 12 year old daughter came running towards me, terror in her eyes. It was Jackie, Graeme's twin sister, that had found her there. I ran to the spa but could not see Graeme anywhere in the spa water. My daughter continued to insist that Graeme was in the spa. The bubbles generated by the spa and the color of the water were obscuring my vision.

     I jumped into the spa and what I saw will haunt me for the rest of my life. It is one of those moments that leaves a permanent etching in your memory that I will never be able to erase. What I saw was Graeme's lifeless body, her limbs moving only due to the currents created by the bubbling water generated by the spa. The horror of this picture defies description. I immediately tried to pull Graeme from the spa but her body could not be moved. I remember thinking that she had been murdered as she appeared to be attached to the bottom of the spa, like she was tied down or someone had weighted her down so she could not come up to the surface. I could not make sense of her being trapped at the bottom of the spa, what on earth could be holding her on the bottom. I simply had no frame of reference to help me comprehend this dilemma.

     Two adult men at the party entered the spa and began trying to free Graeme from the bottom. They eventually were able to free her, only after pulling her so hard the drain cover itself broke free. Graeme's lifeless body was laid on the side of the pool and people began lifesaving efforts. It was surreal to watch these events occurring to my own daughter. Of course as we know today, Graeme was not able to be saved by the efforts of the people at the pool, paramedics or physicians at the hospital. Our Graeme was dead.

     In the aftermath of Graeme's death, I struggled to understand how such a thing could happen. I could not comprehend how a child so well trained in swimming and so healthy and strong could fall victim to being stuck on a drain of a spa. It was an explanation that seemed to defy logic. What I have learned in my quest to understand this problem has not only horrified me but given me the resolve to make sure that Graeme's death will not be in vain. I and Graeme's dad, James Baker, will do all we can to insure that no other mother, father, sister, brother, grandmother, grandfather or anyone else has to endure the horror, loss and grief that my family continues to suffer from as I speak to you today.

     For you see what I have learned since I began looking into this issue is that this very Commission has known that suction entrapment in pools and spas has been killing, disemboweling and maiming children since 1973. Not only has CPSC been aware of this issue but so have the manufacturers of swimming pool pumps, drains, drain covers, and other swimming pool and spa equipment. There have been warnings, suggestions, investigations, and studies that have occurred during these 31 years and yet hundreds of children have drowned, been disemboweled or are disabled as a result of being entrapped in the drains of pools and spas. These various safety efforts such as dual drains, vent pipes, modified drain covers, etc., although well intentioned, unfortunately in certain circumstances fail or are ineffective.

     During the last 10 to 15 years there has been available to the industry a safety device that would essentially eliminate the risk of children being killed or injured due to suction entrapment. These devices are commonly referred to as safety vacuum release systems (SVRS). The various safety and construction methods that have been presented and used in the past by swimming pool pump manufacturers and contractors, such as dual drains, vent pipes, and anti-vortex drain covers, have not eliminated the problem of suction entrapment and children continue to die. The "SVRS" systems serve as a sort of back up fail safe system so that when these other safety designs fail, and we know they do, the SVRS will activate and relieve the suction from the drain, thus freeing any trapped child. A device like this on the drain of the spa that Graeme was stuck on would have saved her life.

     Over the past years numerous efforts have been made to have the swimming pool and spa industry, including manufacturers and contractors, adopt and accept this SVRS safety systems. For reasons that are unclear the manufacturers and contractors continue to insist that the systems they have in place now are adequate and SVRS's are not needed. This position is taken in spite of the fact that manufacturers and contractors know the current systems fail and that children continue to die.What is even more distressing is that the manufacturers' and contractors primary association, The National Spa and Pool Institute, has actively lobbied various state legislatures to keep the legislatures from amending the apporpriate building codes in their states to require these SVRS devices be installed. Why? These devices range in cost from $250 to as much as $1,500 and perhaps more, but when compared to the overall cost of constructing a swimming pool/spa the cost is insignificant, especially when it will prevent the death of a child.

     Just last summer I visited the largest retail pool supply company in the Washington, D.C. area. I asked the staff specifically how I could best avoid the danger of entrapment in my pool and spa and not one of the salespersons had any idea of what entrapment was, nor could they find, within the store, any literature or guidelines on the subject. This sort of conduct by an industry tells me that unless it is forced to do so it will not take the steps necessary to protect swimmers, and in particular children, from the known hazard of suction entrapment.

     My little girl was beginning her life and it was tragically cut short. Our lives have been inalterably changed by the circumstances of her senseless death. I intend to do everything within my power to make sure that no other child and no other family ever sustains a loss of the magnitude that my family has suffered. These deaths are preventable and that alone makes her loss all the more difficult and infuriating to accept. I cannot accept that there are pools and spas being used and contructed today with equipment designed and installed that can lead to death, evisceration, or permanent injury for their survivors. The industry and its association have exhibited a total unwillingness to address this problem voluntarily and as a result hundreds of additional children have died. I am here to urge you to stop these senseless deaths and mandate appropriate changes to the building cods of this country to see that this suffering ends. You have the power to save lives, please do not sit idly by and continue to watch these children die.

Thank You.


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