The way Americans perceive suction entrapment is changing rapidly.
Along with the enactment of VGB, the issue is getting media exposure that to my professional eye seems hysterical. This is causing unexpected side-effects.
Not long ago I saw a report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about a woman who is suing an athletic club over her husband’s drowning which she, and her attorney, claimed was caused by entrapment. But there was something off about the story. I’m not in the medical or legal profession, and I want to be clear that this is just my opinion, but the facts just don’t feel right.
Sadly, I’ve read my share of entrapment accounts, and they generally have a particular, horrible cadence. Person is stuck, no one can free them, pump is shut off, victim is pulled from water, dead or injured. The only variation I’ve seen is that sometimes friends or family are able to dislodge the swimmer while the equipment is still on.
But this news story didn’t read that way. Details were extremely sketchy and the police, when interviewed by Pool & Spa News, said there was no evidence of entrapment. Unfortunately, we were the only media outlet to question the woman’s claim. The reporter who wrote the story accepted it as fact, and I’m sure that the vast majority of readers did as well.
That is not the only entrapment account that makes me suspicious. I hope no more are on the way.
But a few people who might be stretching the truth is not my biggest worry.
Every pool needs to be safeguarded against entrapment, and the public should be educated on water safety. The intention behind VGB is to save lives, and I embrace that mission wholeheartedly.
However, I’m concerned that the American public will forget the simple facts when dealing with this issue. Drowning is an accident. Entrapment is a freak accident.
Recently, I watched three different TV segments on the topic and was shocked. The reporting was so simplistic, the tone so frightening, that if I didn’t know better I would never allow my child to enter a pool again.
But in spite of the media hype, there is still a real danger.
A few days ago I was poking around a foreclosed home in my neighborhood. Peering through the backyard gate, I noticed a pool and decided to take a look. (Some would call this trespassing, but I prefer to think of these excursions merely as touring the property without the inconvenience of a real estate agent.) Anyway, the pool was very old and had a single main drain on one end. The drain cover — also old — had come loose, and there was a dark, crescent-shaped area of pipe clearly showing. The pipe was silent, but if I were a bored 12-year-old boy living in the home my parents just bought, that pipe would talk to me. It would say, “Psst, Kid, I bet it would be fun to stick your arm in here.”
The moment the house gets sold, I plan on asking, no insisting, that the new owners outfit their pool against entrapment. But few people have nosy neighbors in the pool industry checking out their drains.
All this is to say that we need to move forward in an ethical, level-headed manner. We need to educate the public. We need to make people aware of a danger that is real, while keeping in mind that it is also rare.