MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A month after the death of his son Calder, Chris Sloan is still trying to understand what happened to his 7-year-old son. “There is many horrible ways of children dying and it happens a lot of time, but there is something specifically horrifying, because this is just so random. Pool, lights a pool electrical system can kill a kid or can kill a person or you… it’s just so, such an unusual, random way of dying,” Sloan told CBS4. When Calder touched the pool light, electricity flowed through his body. His muscles contracted. The energy pulled his little body in and there was no chance of escape.
Coincidence or Something Else?
Just a week after Sloan died, 10-year-old Diego Cabrera was swimming in his Hialeah apartment’s pool when he touched a railing. He was immediately shocked. Surveillance video of the pool, obtained exclusively by CBS4, shows the boy’s grandfather pulling him out. Two other kids were shocked before everyone evacuated the pool. To have two pool related incidents involving electricity within a week, was it coincidence or something more? How likely is it that what happened in North Miami and Hialeah happening again in a pool here in South Florida? “It’s very possible.” Irv Chazen told CBS4. He operates one of the oldest pool-building companies in South Florida. He’s built more than 7,000 pools since 1959. And he says he’s willing to shut down if something doesn’t change. “I’d rather see them shut the business of building pools down then allow it to continue on its present course. There are going to be more injuries and deaths caused by electrocution, electric shock or entrapment, or drowning. That’s how I feel about it. I’d rather go out of business,” Chazen said.
What Chazen wants outside of every pool is a transformer—which is a pretty simple device. High voltage power coming to your pool passes through the transformer, 120 volts become 12 volts. From there the 12 volts goes on to lights and pool pumps. What’s the difference between 120 volts and 12 volts? Take a 9 volt battery for example. (Do not attempt to do this) If you touch a wet finger to the end of it, it’s going to shock you, but you will be fine. If you touch 120 volts though, it would be 10 times what’s needed to kill you. Licensed electricians told us you could safely install high-powered 120 volt lines into pools. But if something does go wrong – which would you rather have flowing into the water? 120 volts that would kill you or 12 volts that you would live through? Jorge Grijalba with On Call Electric told us he tells people not to get in the pool if there is not transformer. “Because I won’t get in myself,” Grijalba said.
Our investigation into transformers became even more interesting when we learned 120 volt lines are illegal in commercial pools. The high-powered lines must be downgraded before they go to pool appliances and lights. So, in Hialeah, Cabrera gets shocked, but because a transformer was required, the power had been downgraded before it entered the pool. He lives. But in single-family homes, like Sloan’s, transformers are optional. Chris Sloan learned about the law from CBS4. He was disgusted. “I think it’s criminal. I don’t understand why homes aren’t regulated and why that’s allowed. Actually, I did not know that, I did not know that commercial there is a different standard in terms of voltage in terms of a commercial to a home, that is news to me” Sloan said. The Sloan’s did have a transformer and 12 volt light in their pool. But it appears it may have been installed incorrectly. An improperly installed transformer is about as good as having no transformer at all. Sloan’s attorney Dan Santaniello said he’s also looking into failures of the pool light. Past cases have shown the lights are often at fault. Santaniello told us the lights should never become charged, period.
Is there any argument as to why you would want 120 volts in your pool? “None that I know of.” Michael Goolsby told us. Goolsby is Miami-Dade’s Building Department Code Director. It turns out Miami-Dade County Building officials have been fighting to put transformers outside every pool for more than a decade. Goolsby explained, “We would like to see the 15 volt become a code requirement here. So far it has not been successful” The effort dates back to 2001. “We’ve tried in the past, yes we have,” Goolsby said. To make transformers mandatory in Florida’s million plus single family pools, the Florida Building Commission would have to approve it, but the pool industry has fought it over the years. Why? They say it is too expensive and unnecessary. Chazen shrugged when questioned about it. “Well the cost too much is ridiculous. We are talking $40-$50 for a transformer. And that’s a life saver.”
This week The Florida Swimming Pool Association told us they would not support the move—right now. In a statement to CBS4 they said, “The Florida Swimming Pool Association discussed the issue at length during our Board meeting this past weekend. Firstly, we are deeply sorry for the Sloan family’s loss; our first concern in pool construction and repair is safety. Pool lights and anything electrical-related to a swimming pool, are safe if installed correctly and in accordance with the National Electric Code, which is part of the Florida Building Code. All construction and repairs on swimming pools should be done by a properly licensed professional. We feel the prudent course of action is to wait for the report of the investigation to identify any and all factors which may have led to this tragedy.”
Chazen, who leads a much smaller pool association, isn’t giving up. “We are going to try. We are going to do our best,” Chazen said. Perhaps the effort can prevent another tragedy from happening again. Chris Sloan is hopeful. “For our son, there is nothing we can do about that, but his power can affect positive change,” he said. Changing the law is not easy though. From start to finish it takes three years to change a Florida Building Code. In the meantime, thousands of homeowners could be at risk.
How do you tell where you have high or low voltage power going to your pool? You need to call a licensed electrician. For a small fee they can check for it as well as check the connections to your pool. To make the change to a low voltage system, including labor, you should expect to pay somewhere between $250-and $500 dollars. For more pool safety tips head over to http://www.cpsc.gov//PageFiles/118887/519.pdf and www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/5039.html.