One of our staff writers, Josh Keim, has been working on a story about the relationship between inflatable pools, big-box stores and water safety. As part of a research effort, I dropped by a Toys “R” Us last weekend and posed as a customer. The results of my visit were not just informative, they were horrifying.

This particular store had a large display of inflatable pools set up near the entrance. I began looking at them and a young staff member approached, asking if I needed help.

“I’m considering buying one of these,” I said. “Is there anything I need to know? It’s basically a pool, right?”

The man offered a friendly smile. “Absolutely. They’re a lot of fun. My brother has one for his kids.”

“Well, do I need to purchase more stuff with it?” I asked. “What about a fence? Do I need a fence?”

“A fence? No.” He shook his head in a puzzled way as if I’d asked if the pool required macaroni.

“It’s going in my front yard, and the place is pretty open. Is that OK?”

“In your front yard?” His tone was concerned, and for a moment I thought he might change his mind about the fence. After all, there is a strict barrier code in my state. But instead, he said, “Well, you should make sure the yard’s big enough first.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. True, the salesman was barely more than a kid and not in the pool business, but this was a question of common sense. I tried another topic. “My nieces come over a lot and the youngest can’t swim at all. Which pool do you suggest?”

The man tapped his chin thoughtfully. “How tall is she?”

I held my hand about 2 feet off the floor.

“Well, this pool here is about yea deep.” He stuck his own hand out approximately 6 inches higher than mine. “But she can’t climb up the sides, so you shouldn’t have any problems.”

What about the ladder, I wondered. What about ...? I felt sick to my stomach.

We chatted for a few more minutes and eventually he walked away.

Inflatable pools have gotten a lot of bad press lately as a result of various advocacy groups stating that they are unsafe. However, if used properly, such a pool can be a wonderful addition to any family’s backyard. The problem isn’t necessarily within the product itself, but rather, it’s the lackadaisical and dangerous way it’s being marketed, as well as safety requirements that can vary greatly state to state.

These pools come with safety warnings, which is important. But often a human being saying you don’t need a fence can carry more weight than a pamphlet saying you do.

We have a problem. To find out the full scope of the situation and what’s being done to solve it, be sure to watch for Josh’s article, scheduled for our Sept. 4 issue.

Erika Taylor