Pool alarms required for new backyard pools

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Child deaths from drowning are considered a public health crisis, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death for children ages one to four. Ongoing safety efforts to prevent drowning include requirements for safety devices in new pools around Tennessee.

If you've never heard of alarms for your home pool, you're not alone. Many homeowners like Jim Caughron haven't either. His new property in Blount County came with a pool. Caughron watches his daughter when she's swimming and even uses 24-hour video surveillance on his above-ground pool. Yet, he hadn't heard about pool alarms since he wasn't buying and installing a new pool himself. "You can't really be too safe, so pool alarms are probably a good idea," said Caughron about possibly adding one to his pool.

A sign, now required by state law, hangs on the wall of Campbell's Pool and Spa, "State law requires a pool alarm be installed."

Campbell's Pool and Spa Salesperson Pete Condon explained that every pool, hot tub and spa he sells requires an alarm, "A part of our construction process is that the alarm is included. We have to put it on there."

The store also sells alarms separately. A basic alarm is under $100, while alarms with added features can run more than $300.

The alarm is designed to ring loudly (at 50 decibels or more) when a person or object weighing at least 15 pounds falls into the pool.

Knox County Building Official Dennis Nations said, "You have to have to an alarm. It's sort of like a toilet bowl float. Anything that falls into the pool that weighs 15 pounds or more creates enough waves and it will set the alarm off." In Knox County, inspectors look for pool alarms along with other local requirements to prevent a child from accidentally falling into a pool unattended. Inspectors provide this service in several other East Tennessee cities and counties.

However, even in areas where local governments do not provide pool inspections, state electrical inspectors check for the pool alarms before providing their final approval.

Communications Director Kevin Walters with the Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance said, "As far as pool alarms go, during the final electrical inspection for the installation of a pool, State Fire Marshal’s Office Deputy Electrical Inspectors confirm there has been a pool alarm properly installed OR proof of purchase provided by the homeowner/property owner. The alarm does not have to be installed at the time of inspection. If the pool owner cannot show proof of purchase of a pool alarm, it is a failed inspection."

The alarm is meant to be set for times when the pool is empty, and can be turned off when adults are monitoring and using the pool. The state law requiring an alarm for new pools has been in place since 2011.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission said pool alarms can be an extra way to add safety to a home pool, but they should not be the only way.

CPSC said four-foot-tall fences or walls are essential, as well as self-closing and self-latching gates. If your pool backs up to your house, then the CPSC said you should have alarms on back doors to alert you if a young child tries to enter the pool area. It also recommends rescue equipment next to your pool.

Pool alarms are required in residential pools because of Katie Beth's Law, which retired Tennessee Senator Charlotte Burks sponsored because of the drowning of her great-granddaughter.

Here are contact numbers to ask about pool inspections/permits in your local county or city (list may not include all applicable cities):
Knox: 865-215-2325
Knoxville: 865-215-3669
Anderson: 865-457-6244
Blount: 865-681-9301
Claiborne: 423-626-5236
Farragut: 865-675-2384
Hamblen: 423-581-1373 x 1
Loudon: 865-458-4470
Maryville: 865-273-3500
Morristown: 423-585-4626
Oak Ridge: 865-425-3532
Roane: 865-717-4230
Sevier: 865-774-7120

Counties/Cities that do not inspect residential pools
(some cities may require inspections even if the county does not):
Crossville, Campbell County, Cocke County, Fentress County, Jefferson County, Grainger County, Hancock County, Union County, McMinn County, Monroe County, Morgan County, Cumberland County, Claiborne County (only issues permits), Harrogate, Scott County, Bell County, KY, McCreary County, KY, Harlan County, KY

Here is a link to Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance to find out if you are required to obtain a state inspection for your backyard construction projects, including pools.

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers advice for parents on drowning prevention.

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