June 26 — It can happen so quickly. Tragically, it did happen last week at the home of rock star Tommy Lee when a 4-year-old boy accidentally drowned at a swim party in a backyard pool. All it takes is a second for a child to go under while swimming or fall into the water from the side of the pool. That’s where a device called a pool alarm may help. It’s supposed to keep a fall from becoming fatal by literally sounding the alarm if a youngster slips into a pool. Which one might best protect your child? Chief Consumer Correspondent Lea Thompson reports.
IT MAY BE the last suburban oasis — a private swimming pool in your own backyard. But more than 350 children drown each year in private pools. It’s the fourth-leading cause of death for children under five. “Another 6,500 are treated for near-drowning accidents,” says the Good Housekeeping Institute’s Don Mays. He and other experts recommend homeowners buy a pool alarm that will be set off by ripples caused when a child falls in.
But if you’re thinking of buying one, just which ones work? Mays and an Institute engineer showed “Dateline” how they evaluated several alarms costing around $200. They dropped a weight the size of an average one-year-old, 18 pounds, into a pool. They did it from two locations, one 16 feet from the alarm and one 24 feet.
First up, “The Pool Guard.” Close up and far away, the Institute found it was 100 percent reliable and the above-ground pool model was just as effective.
Next came the “Pool S.O.S.” It worked fine from close up. But far away, it really took a dive, ringing only 30 percent of the time. The maker of the “Pool SOS” says there is no reason the alarm should not work well from either location.
Next, the Institute tested the alarm named “The Pool Eye.” The Institute found it kept its eye on too much — even the weakest breeze. “If a pool alarm false alarms too often, parents will be apt to either not pay attention to it, or else turn it off to avoid the nuisance factor,” says Mays. In contrast, “The Pool Eye” for the aboveground pool wasn’t sensitive enough.
Then there was “The Pool Patrol.” It was OK from the close distance. But from 24 feet away, it never worked.
So we tried “Pool Patrol” with a real live 3-year-old — Justin. At 32 pounds, still nothing. So we wondered what would it take? Would “The Pool Patrol” patrol a giant? What about this giant — New York Giant number 77, Luke Petitgout. He weighs 315 pounds — just about 10 times more than Justin. Finally, it worked!
“Pool Eye” and “Pool Patrol” tell “Dateline” that the sensitivity of their alarms can be set according to individual pool size. However, “Pool Patrol” says it plans to change its alarm’s sensitivity to meet new standards due later this summer.
Good Housekeeping also looked at the “Prevent Laser Perimeter,” a laser beam that surrounds the pool and rings when a child breaks the beam. It was always reliable, but at $600, far more expensive than the other pool alarms.
But no alarm is fail-safe. The best safeguard may be the least high-tech of all. “A pool alarm is no substitute for good parental vigilance, watching your child at all times,” says Mays.
Safety experts also say to make sure you have a strong fence around the pool with a good lock on the gate so that young children can’t wander in.