The Legacy of Virginia Graeme Baker
Some tragedies leave deeper trenches in our hearts than others. After the accidental drowning of seven-year-old Virginia Graeme Baker in 2002, something positive eventually arose from the heartbreak. The family, led by Virginia's mother, Nancy, fought for reform. With the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, they created a lasting, life-saving legacy.
Ever since she was three, Virginia -- or Graeme, as her twin and other three siblings liked to call her -- could swim without assistance. By 2002, she'd earned a spot on her community swimming and diving team and was well on her way to becoming an accomplished swimmer.
Even with her impressive swimming abilities, Virginia drowned in the family hot tub that June. Both Virginia and her mother were unsuccessful in pulling the 7-year-old free. Finally, two men were able to free Virginia, but only after it was too late. The men had to pull with so much force to free her that it broke the drain cover. Her official cause of death was ruled as suction entrapment directly related to the faulty hot tub drain cover.
Although there was nothing she could do to bring her precious daughter back, Nancy Baker, along with her family and an organization known as Safe Kids Worldwide, began a tireless crusade to prevent more children to succumbing to similar deaths and injuries and to promote pool safety. Founded in 1988 by Dr. Marty Eichelberger, Safe Kids Worldwide is committed to preventing injuries and deaths in children all over the globe.
Safe Kids and the Baker family lobbied Congress to garner support for laws that would mandate anti-entrapment drain covers and related safety devices on pools, hot tubs, and spas. As the daughter-in-law of former Secretary of State James Baker III, Nancy was well-positioned for the battle. The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act was first introduced in Congress by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida.
Since the 1970s, the Consumer Product Safety Commission had been investigating many reported incidences of suction entrapment related to swimming pools and hot tubs. The reports included hair, body, and limb entrapment. Some were also related to the entrapment of swimming suits or jewelry. In 2007 alone, there were 74 reports of entrapments, with the highest age group affected being 5 to 9-year-olds.
Signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2007, the goal of the VGB Pool and Spa Safety Act was to increase the safety of both public and private hot tubs and pools in order to decreases the number of child drownings, reduce the incidence of suction entrapment injuries and deaths, and to help promote public education on child supervision.
Before this law went into effect on December 19, 2008, Endless Pools was up to code on all requirements. While Endless Pools have no drains, there is suction at the water uptakes grills that feed the swim current. These grills had been safe and without incident already; only modest design modifications were required.
After several days of testing with an authorized certification organization, Endless Pools were officially declared VGB compliant. This gives any owner of an Endless Pool peace of mind that their pool is safe and meets or exceeds all legal standards.
Under the terms of the VGB Act, it is illegal to produce, sell, distribute or import into the U.S. a swimming pool or spa product, including a swim spa, that does not comply with its standards. Penalties for violations can reach $1.875 million (which could soon become $10 million) per offense and may include prison time.
To raise public awareness and compliance with this law and swim spa and pool safety, Pool Safely: Simple Steps Save Lives was launched. This public education campaign’s goal was to improve safety throughout the nation in swimming pools and spas, prevent drownings and entrapments, and to support industry compliance.
The Virginia Graeme Baker Act helps make it safer for families to enjoy aquatic recreation and fitness. It stands as a positive, lasting remembrance of a young swimmer who left us too soon.