With pool season quickly approaching, managers of some local pools are taking extra steps to ensure that electrical systems are working properly after a teenage lifeguard was electrocuted and drowned last summer.
Rachel Rosoff, a 17-year-old senior at Enloe High School, died at the Heritage Point subdivision pool in northern Wake County on Sept. 3. The pool water was electrified when a pump motor stopped working properly and a corroded wire prevented the flow of electricity that would have tripped the circuit breaker, investigators said.
Rosoff’s death prompted Omega Association Management to hire electricians to inspect its 22 neighborhood pools before opening this month. Issues were found at only one, the Oxxford Hunt pool on Fallsworth Drive in Cary.
The pool was supposed to open last weekend, but Omega delayed the opening after electricians said the pool needed minor electrical repairs. Now the town of Cary must inspect the pool before it opens.
Residents are upset about the delay, but the electrical inspection was important, said John Malko, a board member for the Oxxford Hunt Homeowners Association.
Our stance is that we are absolutely not opening the pool until it’s safe.
John Malko, a board member for the Oxxford Hunt Homeowners Association
“We were very concerned about the safety (of the pool),” Malko said. “Our stance is that we are absolutely not opening the pool until it’s safe. It’s not a hard decision and it’s not worth the risk. Now all we can do is wait.”
Mike Smith, president of Omega, said his company isn’t the only one voluntarily asking electricians to give their pool systems a look. Local electricians have been “inundated because everyone and their brother is trying to get this done,” he said.
The 1,165 pools in Wake County must undergo an annual health and safety inspection before they can receive permits to operate for the season, but the inspections don’t include electrical systems.
Like other construction projects, when pools are built they must pass initial inspections, including a requirement that electrical equipment meets state code. But electrical systems aren’t inspected again unless a new permit is required, such as for major renovations.
Sixty people perform the annual checks of pools, and nine inspectors do random checks throughout the summer without notifying pool management.
Inspectors look for several safety factors, including ensuring that chemicals are at proper levels, sanitary facilities are provided and the main drain covers are visible and function properly.
Last year, about 414 pools in Wake were forced to close temporarily because of rule violations. While most reopened the same day, about 20 pools were closed up to three days, said Andre Pierce, Wake’s environmental health and safety director.
The most common violation that resulted in pools being forced to close last year was improper chemical levels, according to the county. Some pools closed because the telephones on site weren’t working properly.
The Heritage Point pool, which dates back to 1979, passed health and safety inspections three times in 2016, including two unannounced visits last June and July, according to the county.
The state Department of Labor decided to not issue fines against the pool’s manager, Aquatic Management Group, saying the company likely did not know about a faulty underground wire that caused Rosoff’s death.
People can view inspection reports from all of Wake’s pools online at services.wakegov.com/PermitSearch.
Pool visitors are much more likely to drown, hurt themselves on concrete or become sick from chemicals than they are to be shocked by an electrical current, Wake officials say.
Last year, Wake urged local pools to treat their water with extra-high levels of chlorine to combat micro-parasites that cause gastrointestinal illness.
Pierce described Wake’s inspection staff as vigilant.
“There’s quite a focus in Wake County on swimming pools, and we have a robust program,” he said.
For the most part, though, it’s up to homeowners associations and management companies to maintain the safety and upkeep of pools’ electrical wiring. (Wake municipalities also run their own pools, but they make up a small percentage of the overall number.)
Electrical inspections cost between $300 and $500 per pool, Smith said. Omega could end up spending up to $11,000 to have its pools inspected.
Smith said it took several months for every pool to be inspected because there are a limited number of local electricians familiar with pool wiring. This year, he said, they’re in especially high demand.
North Carolina lawmakers are considering a bill that would require pools to install a “circuit-interrupter” to prevent the water from becoming electrically charged.
The device monitors the amount of electricity flowing in and out of the circuit. If there’s an imbalance or the current is flowing along an improper path, such as through water or a person, the interrupter trips or shuts off the circuit, cutting off the flow of electricity.
It’s a safety feature to prevent electrocution.
Rep. Mitchell Setzer
The bill, which mentions Rosoff by name, would require all pools – not just new ones – to “ensure that the electrical circuit providing power to the pool’s pump motor includes ground-fault circuit-interrupter protection.
Rep. Mitchell Setzer, a Catawba County Republican who is sponsoring the bill, described it as common-sense legislation. It has bipartisan support, and Setzer said it might be included in a broader regulatory reform bill that has a chance of passing before the General Assembly adjourns, which is expected next month.
“It’s a safety feature to prevent electrocution,” Setzer said. “It’s like a breaker in a house. If there’s an issue, it cuts the power.”
‘Let’s address it right now’
Some people aren’t waiting for a law to pass to make changes.
Craig Wooster, who founded Pool Specialists in Raleigh in 2003, said he added or repaired electrical breakers on about five commercial pools the company manages after hearing about Rosoff’s death. The breakers monitor electrical currents and protect from electric shock.
Pool Specialists also inspected many of the roughly 300 residential pools it services in Raleigh, Cary, Durham, Chapel Hill and other cities and towns across North Carolina.
“The idea was, ‘Let’s address it right now,’ ” Wooster said. “I checked all of them personally because I wanted to put eyes and hands on each one. We want to make sure everyone’s safe.”
Paul A. Specht: 919-829-4870