When two young swimmers, reportedly ages 2 and 3, became seriously ill due to the leak on Aug. 10, emergency personnel were quickly summoned to care for the girls and the baby pool was immediately closed.
But it was not until eight days later that a press release explained what happened, and then the city said that "...design and engineering experts are evaluating the situation."
Addressing the extended delay in releasing details about the accident, Tim Sheeper, owner of Menlo Swim and Sport, the Burgess pool operator, told The Almanac: "Detailed information was needed from the experts, all the experts, before information was released to the public. The original design company representative had to fly to our site for inspection."
Mr. Sheeper also said that "the city of Menlo Park was involved in the investigation, the troubleshooting, the resolution proposals, and the city is involved in the oversight of the pool on a weekly basis through log reviews, safety reviews and so on."
From Mr. Sheeper's and the city's point of view, the delay in notifying the public may have been justified by needing to have "detailed information" from all the experts. But how does such a delay help the public? If chlorine gas leaks in the baby pool, it certainly is possible that it could leak into the other pools as well. In our view, the first leak was a bellwether, a warning that the pool's chlorine systems may have a flaw.
The prudent course in this case was to shut down all the pools until the experts could determine, as quickly as possible, what caused the first leak and give assurance that the problem would not affect the other pools. By sitting on this critical information, Mr. Sheeper and the city may have put all the other patrons of the pools at risk.
With the $6.8-million pool owned by the city but operated under a soon-to-expire contract by Mr. Sheeper, it is difficult to determine which party has final authority in an emergency. Mr. Sheeper said the decision to hold back on releasing information about the accident was jointly made with the city. That could be the case, but in June of 2006, just after Mr. Sheeper took over the pool, leaking gas made eight children sick and paramedics were only summoned when a mother, who was also a registered nurse, called 911.
Now, after two leaking gas incidents at Burgess baby pool in four years, it is time to make sure the pool operation adheres to a stringent protocol of emergency measures at the first sign of a leaking gas incident. The pool attendants are the first line of defense, so the city must make sure such a plan is in place and is tested often.
In addition, that protocol should stipulate that the public be notified immediately if a gas leak is detected, so all swimmers will be able to assess the danger if other pools remain open. That decision should be made by the city, not the pool operator.