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Clearwater to consider pool fences

(ran PC edition)

The measure would require owners of new homes or new pools to put 4-foot barriers around pools, spas and hot tubs.

Leslie Braam lets her two young sons run and play around the family's backyard pool every day. Grant, 3, and Rees, 1, shoot hoops, play games and even drive a toy car around the rectangular pool.

Braam and her husband, Carl, aren't worried about their children's safety because when they moved in May, they installed a mesh fence around the pool to prevent accidents.

"We knew if we got a house with a pool, we would have to have a fence," said Leslie Braam, who lives in the Countryside area of Clearwater. "In my mind, there was no debate. I mean, what would you do if something happens? You wouldn't be able to live with yourself."

The Clearwater City Commission is expected to vote today to start requiring all property owners with new houses or new residential pools to erect fences or other barriers around pools. A fence around the entire yard would not be enough, said Kevin Garriott, city building official.

"It's important," said Commissioner Ed Hooper, a former firefighter who has responded to calls of drowning children. "Hopefully some kids can be saved by this."

Pinellas County does not have a similar law. But some cities, such as St. Petersburg, Dunedin and Safety Harbor, have enacted similar ordinances. Clearwater's requirements will be stricter than some other cities, which only require a fence around either the yard or the pool.

Clearwater's ordinance, which would go into effect immediately, would require a 4-foot barrier with no breaks and a gate around new pools, spas and hot tubs. The city is considering including property owners who renovate homes or yards as well, Garriott said.

Property owners who build a new pool must get a city permit and are subject to pool inspections. The proposed ordinance would be enforced during those inspections.

"You hate to have to legislate things," Braam said, "but some people might not realize how dangerous it is."

In Florida, drowning is the leading cause of death for children under 4 and is five times more common than the national average. More than half of those deaths occur in backyard swimming pools.

More than 10 children younger than 10 have drowned in pools in Pinellas since 1995. Between 1995 and 1998, there were 81 calls to 911 to respond to a child found floating in a pool.

In May, a 2-year-old girl died a day after her father found the child in her grandparents' pool in Seminole. While her father was on the telephone, she wandered from the living room, opened the door to the back yard and jumped into the water.

"It will help prevent drowning injuries and death," said Chuck Kearns, director of the county's EMS and fire administration. Kearns said he had unsuccessfully lobbied for a similar ordinance in Clearwater before.

Clearwater began to consider an ordinance again recently after Commissioner Bob Clark said he received several calls from residents in the past few months. "If one can prevent even one of these tragedies, then this is a good ordinance," he said.

A bill in the Florida House in the past session would have required all new residential pools to have at least one safety feature, such as a pool fence or alarms at the back door of the house.

The Legislature did not pass the measure, but other states, such as California, and cities, such as Phoenix and Fort Worth, Texas, have adopted such requirements.

"Florida is the least regulated state," said Kevin Hyland, who runs a distributorship of rubber and nylon pool fences, called Baby Barrier, in Palm Harbor. "Kids are drowning right and left. Something needs to be done."