Late last month, a 4-year-old boy died in Falmouth.
The boy, whose name has not been released, was visiting Cape Cod Campresort and Cabins in Falmouth. On Saturday, Aug. 26, he went into one of the facility’s three in-ground pools, and something went terribly wrong.
Just before 1 p.m., Falmouth rescue teams were called to the campground after receiving reports of an unresponsive child. While officials were en route, bystanders pulled the boy from the water and began CPR. The child was transported to Falmouth Hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.
Cape Cod Campresort offers visitors 55 acres of campgrounds, trails and activities. The facility features 230 campsites and 35 rental units. By many accounts, it is an idyllic summer getaway destination.
What cannot be accounted for, however, are the conditions at one of its three in-ground pools on that fateful Saturday afternoon. For example, we will likely never know just how crowded the pool was when this child drowned. Nor will we be able to determine if a required safety rope separating the deep and shallow ends of the pool, as well as other safety equipment, was in place. Nor will we be able to determine beyond a shadow of doubt the quality of the water in the pool.
That’s because it took three days before state officials arrived to assess conditions at the facility. Three days is a lot of time, and a lot can change during a 72-hour interval. Falmouth Health Agent David Carignan may have been able to stop by and record conditions, but he did not. In fact, he later said he did not plan to visit the site, saying he knew that the state’s results would be sent to him once that report was completed. That report, which was issued this week, indicates that although there were some relatively minor deficiencies at the pool, none of them would have led to this child’s death.
According to a spokesperson for the state Department of Public Health, there is no prescribed time in which either the state or local authorities must investigate such incidents.
One thing that the report does not address is that Cape Cod Campresort, like many other privately owned facilities across Cape Cod, did not have a lifeguard on duty when this tragedy occurred. That’s because it is under absolutely no legal obligation to do so; state law focuses far more on the sanitation issues connected with semi-public pools than it does on the monitoring of them. In fact, although state law requires that facilities with a pool have a pool supervisor on staff, that person only needs to check the pool once per week. That must change.
Towns have the option of imposing stricter rules, and can require that trained personnel be on the premises when a pool is in use. Some local communities have implemented such restrictions. Motels with more than 75 rooms in Barnstable, for example, must have lifeguards on duty if the facility has a pool. Other towns require that trained and certified personnel at least be on the premises whenever a pool is in use.
Certainly, there is an element of caveat emptor any time a person enters the water; individuals are responsible for their own behaviors, and younger swimmers should be supervised by a responsible adult at all times.
The hodgepodge of local regulations, however, leaves the public at unknowing risk. If a family were aware that no on-site supervision was available – or required, for that matter – they may make different travel arrangements, or at the very least, plan accordingly.
Towns should make every effort to create rigorous, uniform rules governing the use of such pools, and on Monday, Falmouth’s Board of Health took a preliminary step toward doing so.
The owners of motels and campgrounds may argue that staffing a pool on a regular basis would be financially prohibitive. If that is the case, perhaps such facilities should be required to drain their pools until such time as they are willing to comply with what is arguably a common-sense approach to safety.
Similarly, there should be a timely investigatory process whenever a questionable death occurs at both the state and local levels. This is not to suggest that the events on Aug. 26 were anything more than an unavoidable tragedy, but the truth is that we will likely never know.
Terrible events sometimes have a way of highlighting the deficiencies that may have contributed to them. Hopefully, this young boy’s death will help prevent a similar tragedy from unfolding in the future.