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Drawing the Line on Pool Safety : * A County Panel Is Writing Tough Rules to Safeguard Youngsters

One of the most depressing year-end totals for Orange County in 1990 surely will be the number of children who have drowned in swimming pools during the past year.

At last count, the figure was a dozen, a saddening benchmark reached by way of a horrible incident in which a baby-sitter drove up and down a street looking for a missing 2-year-old girl, only to have the child’s body later pulled from the bottom of an algae-filled pool with a neighbor’s pool skimmer.

Against this backdrop of continuing tragedy, a committee of building officials and concerned citizens in Orange County has been quietly making good progress toward the drafting of a model pool-fencing ordinance.

The goal is to offer a set of tough requirements that municipalities with differing sets of existing regulations could adopt. Floyd McLellan, a county building official, summarizes the group’s sentiments with the observation that “we’ve felt enough is enough; it’s time that we act, and in a way that we all have the same regulations.”

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He’s right about that; the numbers are climbing, and Orange County should have tough, uniform pool-fencing standards so children can reasonably be assured of safety anywhere within the county’s borders.

A driving force on the committee has been Jim Landis, a Newport Beach pool-safety advocate who brings special motivation to the cause, having nearly lost a child in a pool accident. His own city recently deferred the adoption of a local fencing requirement to await the findings of the county committee, which is made up also of building representatives from neighboring coastal communities.

But it is a tribute to the seriousness and swiftness of the county group’s work in a relatively short time that it has come to the point where it is not far from offering standards adaptable to the county’s cities. That Newport Beach thought enough of this effort to wait for further guidance was a testimony to the importance of this work.

There are important issues to be addressed, such as the height of fences, whether a side of a house fronting on the pool can serve as one acceptable stretch of barrier and, if so, what kind of locking and alarm requirements would be needed for sliding glass doors.

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Also, there are tough decisions to be made about the fencing of pools that predate any such ordinances.

But fortunately, there are places around the country, Phoenix most notable among them, that have passed ordinances and lived successfully with them. And McLellan and Landis, driving forces in Orange County’s work on pool safety, are taking an uncompromising approach. They think that the county will be served best by tough ordinances that protect lives.

The county is well served by this effort, now moving to conclusion. It surely will benefit the various communities.


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