It sounds like an urban legend—something that supposedly happened to your cousin’s friend’s cousin. A little girl was at a barbecue party at a friend’s house, frolicking in the pool with friends. She swam to the drain at the bottom of the pool and sat on it. The drain’s suction was so strong, it sucked the girl onto the aperture, trapping her under the water. Once the adults on the scene realized what was happening and rushed to help, it took two grown men 10 minutes to free her from the drain—which broke in the process—but it was too late to save her.
Tragically, this horrible series of events really happened, in a hot tub in McLean, Virginia, in the summer of 2002. The little girl was seven-year-old Virginia Graeme Baker—Graeme to her friends and family, and a more-than-competent swimmer. She also happened to be the granddaughter of Jim Baker, former President George H.W. Bush’s secretary of state, and a man with the influence to ensure that what happened to Graeme would never happen again.
Drowning is the number-two killer of children under the age of 14 in the United States. In the last 20 years, there have been almost 150 incidents of entrapment—someone getting stuck in the suction of a pool or hot tub drain—resulting in 36 deaths. Two deaths a year might not seem like much in a country of 280 million people, but those 36 deaths were entirely preventable—and therein lies the tragedy.
On December 19, 2007, the Virginia Graeme Baker Act was signed into law by then-President George W. Bush. The law requires all public pools—including those in apartment complexes and HOAs—meet anti-entrapment safety standards established by the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC). It also establishes a grant program for states that adopt these pool and spa safety laws as well as a national drowning prevention program.
From the point of view of buildings and condo associations with swimming pools, the most important part of the legislation is this sentence: “Public pools or spas that are not in compliance by December 17, 2008 may not open for use until compliant.”