David Berkowitz

The issue of drain entrapment hit the media when the 5-year-old son of hip-hop artist Usher got his arm lodged in a pool drain and nearly drowned.

On Aug. 5, Usher Raymond V tried to retrieve a toy that had fallen in the drain of a family pool in Atlanta when his arm became stuck. After rescue attempts by his aunt and maid failed, two men working on the property were able to pull him free. In a televised interview, the child’s mother, Tameka Foster Raymond, said the boy was underwater for nearly three minutes.

Usher Raymond was released from the hospital a week later, and his father posted a picture of the youngster back at home with a cast on his arm, playing a board game with his family.

The Atlanta Police Department is continuing its investigation and could not offer information about the drain. Many have concluded from the nature of the accident and aerial footage of the pool that the drain cover must have been off and that the pool must have only one drain.

Industry professionals thought much of the media coverage surrounding the incident has been constructive and lacking some of the scary undertones marking news about past incidents. In this case, reports contained discussions of drain safety and instructed homeowners on how to safeguard their own pools.

Some of this coverage involved pool professionals. When builder Ronnie Gibbons was contacted by a local television station for an expert’s perspective, he invited the reporters into his own backyard to discuss drain safety and see his own entrapment-prevention measures in person. Gibbons, who had no tie to the Usher incident, encouraged homeowners to have a professional ensure that the drain cover has the VGB stamp and to add a backup device if a second drain isn’t present.

“I strongly believe that the public is not fully aware of the danger of main drains,” said the vice president of construction at Gibbons Pools in Islandia, N.Y. “To me, it was important just to be able to get the message out.”

Some of the coverage, however, went over the stipulations in the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Act, the only federal law addressing entrapment prevention. Some wondered if government entities might seek to apply VGB’s requirements on commercial pools to residential installations.

Steve Dunn, a distributor in central California, has heard these concerns from some of his customers. “The concern is regulation and having to inform customers that they need to upgrade when customers don’t want to spend money,” said the vice president of Commercial Pool Systems in Martinez, Calif. “They have a lot of customers who are on the fence through this economy, who can barely pay their bills, and [service techs] are afraid they might lose some accounts [if] they have to shell out money to retrofit for VGB.”

But some would prefer that VGB drain covers be mandated on residential pools, even existing ones, believing that’s what it would take for homeowners to take safety measures. Dunn counts himself in that group, as does Gibbons. His company will not service residential pools that don’t have approved drain covers, as well as a second main drain or backup device.

But he doesn’t expect the incident with Usher’s child to result in legislation. “I don’t think that the government will make it where all existing pools need to be changed,” he said. “Who’s going to check it?”

Some saw the attention given to the incident as an opportunity to promote pool safety. The Association of Pool & Spa Professionals and the Consumer Product Safety Commission each sent out press releases outlining drain safety. APSP’s Georgia Chapter has reached out to Usher to discuss the possibility of collaborating on a safety promotion, but has not heard back. The organization hopes to talk with the performer once things settle down.

Some individual companies plan to follow suit with their clients. “I think it’s a good opportunity to drive home a very important safety message,” said Brian Duncan, president of Pitch Perfect Pool Services in Martinez, Calif. “We plan to put out a letter to our customers. We’re pretty well familiar with most of our customers’ pools, but we’ll offer up a free evaluation and let them know what the cost would be to put in an up-to-date, VGB-approved cover.”

Especially in the Atlanta area, consumers are hungry for information. “[The incident] has led to a significant increase in phone calls from homeowners asking if their pools are safe and if they need to make any modifications,” said Shawn Still, general manager, Olympic Pool Plastering, and board member of APSP’s Georgia Chapter.