3 drownings in past 3 years in public pools in Allegheny County
Allegheny County has had three drownings in public pools – one for each of the past three years – according to incident data obtained in a Right-to-Know request.
The Tribune-Review requested the information as part of its examination of pool inspection reports in Allegheny and Westmoreland counties. That report found oversight disparities between counties like Allegheny that have a local health department and those that do not, like Westmoreland.
Of the 60 incidents for which the Allegheny County Health Department provided data for 2016, 2017 and 2018, 43% involved a near drowning, which represents the largest injury category. Other injuries include heat exhaustion, head trauma and cuts.
The three drownings were located at:
• The Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh in 2016.
• The Hampton Inn at Monroeville in 2017.
• The Holiday Inn Express & Suites at Monroeville in 2018.
Only the Jewish Community Center responded to request for comment.
Jason Kunzman, the JCC’s chief program officer, said the organization took several steps following the drowning in 2016 to ensure the safety of the swimming public. The new safety measures included adding an additional lifeguard, more frequent training, relocating observation points and implementing a “eyes on pool only practice” where guards do not have additional duties that would distract from watching swimmers.
“Obviously drawing attention to pool safety is a very important issue and one that the JCC takes very seriously,” Kunzman said. “It was a wakeup call for us.”
Little is known about the reported incidents. Health officials redacted the incident date as well as victims’ gender and age in its response to the Right-to-Know request, which the Tribune-Review has appealed to the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records.
County officials declined to discuss the pool incidents through Ryan Scarpino, an Allegheny County Health Department spokesman.
Pennsylvania had 50 drownings in 2017, according to the latest hospital discharge data available.
It is unknown how many total drownings occur in Allegheny because the health department only tracks incidents at the roughly 600 public pools in the county. The 3-year-old who drowned in her Plum family’s backyard pool on Aug. 1, for example, wouldn’t show up in any county health data because the drowning occurred in a private pool.
Westmoreland County, because it does not have a health department, has no mechanism to track public pool incidents, which include drowning.
Statewide data, which includes all drowning victims transported to a hospital, does not provide a county breakdown.
State and county data indicate that drownings are rare. Most pool incidents in Allegheny County involved a near drowning.
More than half, or 53%, of all the near drownings in Allegheny County the past three years happened in a pool at Sandcastle Water Park. The Boardwalk Blasters – described as an extreme-action ride that shoots racers down two 25-foot slides, followed by a 7-foot freefall that dumps riders into a 12-foot deep pool – was the most common location for a near drowning at Sandcastle.
As described on Sandcastle’s website, the ride is recommended for strong swimmers only.
“I talked to our aquatics director and 100% of these were water rescues,” said Tyler Saxon, a Sandcastle spokesman. “There was never anything serious.”
Saxon added, “Any time one of our lifeguards has to get into the water, we have to fill out one of these incident reports.”
On any given good-weather day, Sandcastle will have up to 3,000 swimmers cooling off at one of its 11 pools.
Nicole C. Brambila is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Nicole at 724-226-7704, [email protected] or via Twitter .