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By Nzong Xiong

RISMEDIA, May 20, 2008-(MCT)-A recent scare that could have turned tragic made Dwight Siemens and his wife, Mary, do something they had never done in the 10 years they’ve lived in their Clovis, Calif., home.

They called All-Safe Pool Barriers in Fresno, Calif., to enclose their swimming pool with a removable mesh fence.

While they have two sons-the youngest is a senior in high school-the idea of a fence or other type of safety barrier hadn’t crossed their minds before.

“We’ve had hundreds and hundreds of kids out here and never had any incidents,” says Dwight Siemens, a 51-year-old label manufacturer.

Then a recent church group gathering at their home forced them to think about safety barriers. A toddler accidentally fell into the pool. Luckily, an adult saw the child fall in and fished him out immediately, so no harm was done.

“It was pretty traumatic,” he says. “There was no tragedy, but we didn’t want to wait for that.”

The recent drownings of two 5-year-olds in backyard swimming pools in Fresno have also flashed a spotlight on pool safety.

No matter when your swimming pool was built or whether you have young children, fences and other safety barriers-along with adult supervision-can help prevent drownings.

New and Remodeled Pools

A decade ago, the state of California enacted the Swimming Pool Safety Act, which required any new swimming pools to have at least one approved safety barrier, such as a fence, a cover or an alarm on any door leading directly to the pool. It was amended in 2006 to allow pool alarms and removable mesh fencing as safety barrier options, and suction outlets were required to have anti-entrapment covers. It affected all swimming pools and spas that needed permits to be built or remodeled after Jan. 1, 2007.

Local residents constructing a new pool or doing a major remodel also should check local building codes to see what safeguards are acceptable. They can vary slightly from the state’s requirements, which can be found at the California Department of Public Health website,, or by searching for “2006 California Pool Safety Act.”

Among the acceptable options and requirements by the state, with descriptions from the website, are:

Enclosures: A fence, wall or other barrier with a minimum height of 60 inches; gates opening away from the pool that are self-closing with a self-latching device placed no lower than 60 inches; no vertical gaps that allow a 4-inch diameter ball to pass through; no more than a 2-inch gap between the bottom of the enclosure and the ground; the outside surface must be free of any features that might allow a child to use handholds or footholds.

Removable fences: They must have a self-closing, self-latching gate that can accommodate a key-lockable device. The fence also must meet standards set by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). In Fresno, Clovis and Fresno County, these fences have to be secured in a permanent fashion-one that requires adults to use tools to remove them.

Safety pool covers: Manual or automatic covers that meet ASTM standards.

Pool alarms: Alarms, including surface-motion, pressure, sonar, laser and infrared types that will go off when they detect accidental or unauthorized entrance into the water. They also must meet ASTM standards.

Exit alarms: All doors or windows that allow direct access from the home to the pool have alarms that go off when opened or left ajar.

Door safety: All doors that allow direct access from the home to pool must have a self-closing, self-latching device, with the release mechanism placed no lower than 54 inches above the floor.

These safety measures are intended to protect children 5 years old or younger. Some of these barriers, such as alarms for pools and doors, can be bought at some pool-supply stores. For example, door alarms start at $29.99 and pool alarms start at $159.99 at Leslie’s Swimming Pool Supplies at Blackstone and Herndon avenues.

Other barriers, such as pool covers, removable fences and other enclosures, must be ordered from manufacturers or vendors. Costs will vary, depending upon the product and size.

Older Pools

For backyard swimming pools that were built before 1998, generally a fence was the main requirement.

“… For many years, the fence around your home, like the wood fence, was adequate as long as you had a self-closing gate and the latch at a height where the child couldn’t reach it,” says Brian Leong, Fresno’s building and safety services manager. But the requirements have “evolved over time.”

If you have an older pool and opt for additional safety barriers, you don’t have to meet current building codes, such as having a fence that is 5 feet high. However, it might still be wise to find out what the codes require, Leong says.

“It would be advisable for you to call us to find out what the height requirements are,” he says. “As a homeowner, you want to check, but technically, you’re not required to do that.”

Unless you decide to remodel your swimming pool, inspectors usually don’t ask about what you do to your backyard.

“We’ve had people complain, `My neighbor’s (barrier) doesn’t meet the requirement,” says Juan Diaz, the chief building inspector for Fresno County.

“We would research when the pool was built and have them meet the requirement at the time. But if they are remodeling now, we would have them meet the current requirements.”

Many homeowners with older pools desire to protect loved ones or guests as best they can, which leads them to install safety barriers. Many opt for a fence. While the fence can be wrought-iron, chain-link or even wood, many are choosing mesh fences, which often are made of a polyester material that has been coated with polyvinyl.

“More and more, people are going to the mesh,” said Greg Kearns, vice president of Fresno-based Wildwood Aquatech Pools, which sells and installs automatic pool covers, door alarms and pool alarms. “People like the ability to remove it.”

For the first 20 or so years that Karen Mello lived in her Fresno home, there were no door alarms, fence surrounding the pool or other safety barriers.

But “when my daughter moved back to Fresno with her husband and brand-new baby, all of the sudden, we looked back there said, `Oh, dear,'” says Mello, a homemaker. “As soon as little Julian was crawling, I got a hold of Blaine (Hall of Guardian Pool Fence in Coarsegold, Calif.,), and he came out and put this fence in. The real impetus was my grandbaby.”

That was in 2004. Before the 160 feet of removable mesh fence was actually installed, she worried that it would tarnish the beauty of her backyard.

“I have a large, park-like backyard. I just love it. I work hard in it. We entertain in it. … I was like, `Ah, I have to put in this fence.’ But for my grandbaby, I’d have put up 10 fences,” Mello says. “I’ve gotten used to it. I almost don’t see it anymore.”

If you decide to go with a mesh fence, they often come in several colors, including black, brown, green, tan and white. However, avoid the white ones, says Robert Neil of Lifepreserver Removable Safety Pool Fence in Fresno.

“It has a glare and you can’t see through them,” he says. “The darker they are, the easier they are to see through.”

Mello doesn’t recall how much the fence cost. Siemens paid about $3,000 for a little more than 140 feet.

Whether you decide to install a mesh fence or a different kind of safety barrier, adult supervision is still a must.

“Summer is coming up,” says Tanya Geren, a member of the Water Safety Council of Fresno County. “Make sure you have a designated adult watching your child at all times. Since we’ve already had two drownings this year, we don’t want any more.”

For Pets, too

Finding a beloved pet dead in the backyard swimming pool can be just heartbreaking.

It’s one reason some people will call Jim Lambros, owner of All-Safe Pool Barriers in Fresno, to install a mesh fence around their swimming pools.

“It’s just … as traumatic when they lose a dog,” he says.

While cats can drown, too, dogs, especially puppies, are more likely to end up in the pool, says Jo Amenda, a dog trainer and owner of Academy Dog Training in Fresno. “Puppies have a tendency to chase around something and slip into the pool,” she says.

If you do find your pet dog paddling in the water, “grab it and get it out,” she says. “The dog’s in a panic; just get it out.”

Besides putting a fence around your pool, you also can do a couple of things to acquaint your dog with a body of water.

“The best thing is prevention, and then education when the dogs are around 6 months, depending upon the breeds,” she says. “When they’re little, you can take them to a lake and walk in the shallow water. … In nature, they’d walk into a bank or stream and its gentle slopes, and that’s where they’d learn to swim.

“But in a pool, there’s no bottom. Their feet can’t touch the bottom, and then they panic. … Then they go to the nearest side (of the pool), and they can’t get out. They exhaust themselves and drown.”

During the summers, she also suggests putting out a baby wading pool. It helps dogs become comfortable with water, and also provides the animals with water to drink during a hot day. Then hire a professional dog trainer who can teach the dogs to swim and exit the pool, she says.

“It’s a gradual process where the dog learns to enjoy the water, not to panic and how to get out,” she says. “Don’t toss them into the pool. That’ll just terrify them.”

© 2008, The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.).
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.