At the National Drowning Prevention Symposium last month, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) unveiled a new federal bill offering incentives to states that implement pool safety laws.

The tentatively titled Graeme Baker/Preston de Ibern Memorial Pool & Spa Safety Act will be presented to Congress in May. It addresses pool and spa safety by providing federal grants to states that establish barrier or anti-entrapment laws. The exact value of the grants is to be determined.

As of press time, the three layers of protection a state would be required to include in its codes to qualify for the federal funds are:

  • A physical barrier such as a fence
  • Anti-vortex drain covers
  • Safety vacuum release systems (SVRS)

“Here in Florida, pools are as common as palm trees, and drowning holds the gruesome distinction of being the leading cause of death among our youngest children,” Wasserman Schultz told the 160 people who attended the event in Fort Myers Beach. “The same nightmarish stories and tragic endings are just as common in states across the country, from California to Maine.

“So why hasn’t something been done on a national level up to this point? My legislation does not mandate that states adopt these safety measures,” she continued. “It does, however, give them incentives to do so.”

Many symposium attendees were moved by her remarks. Among them was Nancy Baker, the mother of 7-year-old Virginia Graeme Baker, one of the children after whom the bill is being named. Graeme, granddaughter of former Secretary of State James Baker III, died in a suction entrapment incident in 2002.

“It was an inspiring speech that Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz gave. She is such a genuine and passionate speaker,” Baker said. “I was in tears, so moved by the memory of the children who have lost their lives in this way, all the broken hearts. I am filled with hope and the promise that she will do what she has set out to do.”

The challenge, Wasserman Schultz said in her remarks, will be getting industry support. She stated that the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals, for one, has historically “opposed every pool safety proposal across the country.”

She then called on APSP to join the safety movement and reduce the number of children who drown each year. “They cannot continue to … declare that supervision is the only answer,” she said.

Though Wasserman Schultz’s presentation was the highlight of the National Drowning Prevention Symposium, participants also attended sessions on water safety and drowning prevention. Topics ranged from hyperbaric oxygen therapy for near-drowning victims to the dangers of soft-sided pools, which are not well-regulated by city and county building codes.

“The greatest benefit for attendees is the sharing of prevention programs that people can replicate in their own areas,” said Maureen Williams, president of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance, which co-sponsored the event this year in conjunction with SWIM Lee, the water-safety program of Lee County, Fla. “We’re trying to encourage more people from the pool industry to attend and get on the pool safety team to work with us on safety.”

Next year’s symposium will be held in Phoenix, co-sponsored by the Drowning Prevention Coalition of Central Arizona. For more information about the alliance, visit www.drowningprevention.info

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