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Splash-Pad Tragedy: The ONE Thing You Should be Doing Right Now

Family electrocuted at Jupiter, Florida water-feature. Father of four, 45, killed while saving his children. A hidden risk-factor you need to urgently investigate today.

You think it can never happen. Until it does.

One of the happiest places at your club is usually the pool and (at many upscale facilities) the all-popular splash-pad. Teeming with youthful exuberance, this is where wonderful memories are meant to be made. Beautiful nearby fountains frame the environment.

There are many in the Club industry who recognize the father of four in this story, Nate Davenport, who tragically lost his life in Jupiter, FL this past Sunday, October 22:

This is because Nate was the President of RGD Consulting Engineers, a commercial firm well-known in the hospitality industry for their invaluable and first-rate professional engineering services.

If your facility is located in Florida and has undergone renovations, there is a good chance RGD reviewed your structural, plumbing, HVAC, or other building systems. The services of this longtime family-owned business are simply incomparable.

What began as a pleasant Sunday family outing on their boat, brunch, and a refreshing visit to a public splash-pad instead turned into a pure nightmare.

Located immediately next to the splash-pad in question is a typical shopping-mall style fountain which was the location of this catastrophe.

With a low wall, and despite warning signs to the contrary, it is reported that many people enter the attractive fountains on a regular basis while visiting the splash-pad.

Whether it is to retrieve errant toys, sit on the wall, or otherwise have a quick soak, one would never expect the hidden danger in the fountain that proved fatal on this day.

As of this writing, no information has been released about the cause of this incident. What is abundantly understood, however, is that water and electricity do not mix well.

Whatever caused this condition, whether purely accidental, a design flaw, poor maintenance, or another factor all remain to be determined.

A Wake Up Call for Clubs

In the meantime, I am going to share the brutal reality of visits to club facilities and the behind-the-scenes conditions observed in mechanical support areas that merit your attention.

Before doing so, a quick layman’s primer in pool design (strictly from a management viewpoint as we have no expertise in engineering).

All pools, fountains, and splash-pads need to be grounded. That is a fundamental basic understood by all. But, in addition to typical grounding, all metal parts must also be included in a “bonding” system. In bonding, one continuous wire (loop) is attached to every metal part of the structure and equipment.

This prevents electricity from building up in one piece and then being suddenly discharged when simultaneously touching another (even though both are grounded).

These are two distinct levels of protection. Every piece of metal (including within five feet of the pool) must be included in these two systems. That incorporates mundane parts such as the metal covers around light fixtures. And, yes, even the pool water itself (a conductor) must be protected — usually through grounding/bonding of the metal ladder.

Did you know that most swim lane-lines are made with metal “rope”? Yes, you probably have extensive metal lines stretched across the entire length of your pool. That means the attachment points in the pool wall must be fully protected, as just one example of how all mechanisms in the pool facility must be equally shielded.

So what does this have to do with my observations of pump rooms at multiple club facilities? If you don’t watch them, nobody else does either.

Florida doesn’t require fountains to be regularly inspected – it is up to the property owner to make sure the lights, pumps, and wiring are working correctly and are safe.

When the Department of Health arrives for their typical inspection, don’t expect them to cover this aspect of the mechanical operations. Many GM’s and owners are not aware of this point.

Regardless of the size/type or age of the Club, the pump room can be often overlooked. Its condition is a good barometer of the Club’s overall maintenance practices and can be a red-flag. Some of the rooms seen at Clubs are in complete disrepair and seemingly on the waiting-list for a pending renovation.

For Clubs, many mechanical and pump rooms are of limited size. Adding to this mix are highly corrosive chemicals and poor ventilation systems.

Walk into your support room today and observe the many fittings, valves, and gauges. Many may show discoloration and some may not even be operational. Better yet, look at any metal parts of nearby storage shelves, wall brackets, pipe hangers, and even the light fixtures.

Signs of corrosion are highly likely in all these components and are indicative of this difficult environment they must perform.

Regardless, your members and guests trust that you are taking adequate measures to protect their life/safety: today. And don’t just assume your third party pool/fountain contractor are doing the job for you.

The owners of the fountain where Nate was killed have already raised this specter of explanation.

What All Clubs Need to Do Now

As the responsible owner, you must make certain the electrical panel ground, equipment, and the bonding system are fully inspected/tested. Yes, they are also made of metal and they are often located in the same mechanical area and subject to the exact corrosive effects you might observe nearby.

Give special consideration if your facility is older or is located in a particularly difficult environment such as near the ocean. These critical electrical components are typically overlooked completely in your maintenance program and escape regular and formal oversight.

A simple handheld tool that Club staff might want to keep on site for daily use was described by Raphael Simon, a master electrician in Palm Beach County:

He states that for an extra level of protection, a tic tracer (voltage detector), can be employed before children head into an area with water and electricity.

Most everyone has their electrician at their facility on a regular basis: put a pump equipment room inspection on their checklist for the next visit and get a report in writing.

Two things to reiterate: a) the cause of the October 22 tragedy remains unknown, and b) you cannot rely on our commentary as professional advice about your mechanical systems. We are merely ringing the bell so that you conduct your own due diligence as a professional manager and responsible owner.

Ironically, Nate Davenport dedicated his professional life to making certain the building projects his company was involved were ultimately made safe for you and your family.

Help honor his efforts by having your aquatics facilities immediately inspected and included in your regular maintenance program.

It’s quite possible you might just save a life.

You can contact David Shaw at Club Consulting Associates for more information. and 561-621-0620

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