Update: Menlo Park addresses latest pool incident

Operator says investigation continues into Aug. 12 episode

It's like deja vu, only without the public disclosure: A swimmer at Burgess Pool in Menlo Park received emergency medical treatment after inhaling "pool fumes or chemicals" on Aug. 12, according to dispatch logs for the Menlo Park Fire Protection District.

About the same time last year, two children playing in the baby pool were treated at Stanford Hospital after reacting to a "gaseous substance" released by a malfunctioning chlorination system. The city waited eight days before telling the public.

This time, it's been almost a month without notification.

A log of the Aug. 12 emergency call shows a request for medical aid and a possible hazardous materials investigation at 7:30 a.m.

Private contractor Menlo Swim and Sport, owned by Tim Sheeper, operates the city-owned Burgess and Belle Haven pool centers under an agreement that was just renewed in March.

"There is a continuing investigation of the incident by designers, builders, operators, and an oversight committee. Results are not yet available," Mr. Sheeper said when reached via email. "All pools are and have been operating within normal parameters using normal procedures."

The oversight committee consists of city staff from the public works and community services departments as well as Team Steeper staff, according to the city.

No evidence of problem

Three days after the Almanac repeatedly requested information about the incident from the city, Community Services Director Cherise Brandell responded, saying that a female swimmer requested medical aid and described a "gas bubble" rising from the pool.

After staff determined that the pool was operating normally, Ms. Brandell said, they asked the plumbing contractor to examine the pool. The contractor arrived at the pool within hours, she said, and found no evidence of a leak or bubble or any other problem. "It was determined at that time that there was no danger to other swimmers," her email said.

According to the city, engineers from the firm that designed the new plumbing also inspected the pool and "felt that it is virtually impossible for an event to have occurred in the way the victim described."

Asked why the city didn't notify the public, Ms. Brandell responded that with no evidence of a malfunction and no other swimmers in the immediate area who had smelled or seen a bubble, staff determined it wasn't newsworthy.

"City staff and the operator are confident that all the City's pools are, and have been, operating normally and safely," Ms. Brandell stated.

Still, the investigation continues. No update on the swimmer's health status was available.

Previous problem fixed

This was potentially the third exposure incident at Burgess pool since 2006. Five years ago, eight children using the children's pool experienced burning eyes and throats, shortness of breath, and violent coughing -- all symptoms of low-level chlorine exposure, according to the American Association of Poison Control. Paramedics took one to the hospital.

The city then waited six days before informing the public.

That incident resulted from an accidental shutdown and restart of the pool's circulation pump, according to Mr. Sheeper. He told the Almanac that a contractor later added two mechanical safeguards to prevent a recurrence.

The American Association for Poison Control collected reports of 3,451 chlorine swimming pool exposures during the past eight years across the United States, nearly half for children under the age of 19 and requiring medical treatment.

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Like this comment
Posted by anon
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Sep 8, 2011 at 12:27 pm

Just goes to show that MORE oversight is necessary for Team Sheeper.
Safety is NOT their first priority. I worked there for over a year and never was instructed as to where first aid equipment was located -I had to ask, and they seemed so surprised that I was interested.
They should be questioned as to the safety not only of their equipment, but also as to the training of their staff to deal with emergencies. Immediate notification should be given to the public as soon as an incident happens.

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 8, 2011 at 1:21 pm

Editor and Peter Carpenter
If this incident required a fire dept dispatch wouldn't their report log have included the details? And are these daily reports available to the local media which I would think would be checking them daily as I assume they are with the police logs if so available?

Also wouldn't this incident have been reported to the city manager if not by Sheeper then at least by the fire department?

What's going on here? Whatever it is it's not kosher and it's notacceptable.

Like this comment
Posted by Marge Draper
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Sep 8, 2011 at 1:22 pm

I am a frequent participant in the Aqua Fit program. I do recall seeing emergency vehicles when I arrived for the morning 7:50 class that day. I didn't smell any strong chlorine odors at that time.
If you haven't participated in any of the swim classes or programs, you have no clue about the level of professionalism that Tim Sheeper has brought to the management of Burgess Pool! Having had a son who participated in the swim program during the '80's (the Penguins), the excellence that the program for children has today is leaps and bounds beyond what it was.
My question is: what kind of record do the other area pools have? Have they had problems with this same gas exposure. (kind of a strong word, don't you think?)? If so, how did they solve it? How is it that only one person was affected when I know there are many people in the pool at that time?

Like this comment
Posted by Long time resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 8, 2011 at 2:55 pm

I have been swimming at Burgess Pool since the early 60's and the facility and operation was almost a joke until Tim Sheeper took over.

While on the Menlo Masters Team there in the 90's the pool was frequently (about once a month)closed for a day or more. Chemical exposures were common, but not reported. Tim only managed the team in those days, not the facility.

Why didn't the Almanac take an interest in these exposures before Sheeper took over in 2006? How about publishing a record of those 'incidents' when the pool was run by the City?

Like this comment
Posted by James Madison
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 9, 2011 at 7:32 pm

I have scarcely any more understanding of the facts after reading the story than I did before. The Almanac should do its legwork before going to press.

Like this comment
Posted by Long Time Menlo Man
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 10, 2011 at 7:47 am

Non event!

Like this comment
Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 10, 2011 at 6:09 pm

Another interesting story would be how few lap swim lanes and swim time are now available to the general public, between masters, swim school, the other swim school, and team in training. The public is getting squeezed out of the pools.

Like this comment
Posted by another taxpayer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 12, 2011 at 8:24 am

How about reporting on why there is no information about SOLO on the list of programs offered to youth? Many of the other programs on the Menlo Park pool website are offered by private entities.

Like this comment
Posted by water baby
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Sep 12, 2011 at 12:19 pm

You can't compare the old facility to the new one. The old one was constantly malfunctioning, which was why, after Measure T passed, the council gave the new aquatics center #1 priority. It was the first recipient of Measure T funds.

Because some of the master swimmers insisted they needed a larger pool, development of the facility was delayed. Costs rose. As a result, the facility took away money from other Measure T projects that may never be funded. Just one of those economic realities, but it showed us the self-centered mindset of the master swimmers.

When the pool was ready to open, a couple of city council members used some scare tactics to hand the facility over to Sheeper. He has, for over five years now, run the pool as a private club. Which is not to say it's badly run, just that it is owned by us, the taxpaying public, in name only. The city has never bothered to require Sheeper to grant equal access to those of us who are not part of his club.

Public swim admission prices are high compared to those of other pools, hours are limited, and after you take the plunge, you have to swim in a very limited area. Burgess is not a community pool by any means, even though we paid for it.

If anon's post about lack of training or concern for safety has merit, that should be the focus of the Almanac's investigation.

Like this comment
Posted by henry fox
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 12, 2011 at 1:48 pm

There are many appropriate and responsible ways to report a story when not all information is in. Almanac coverage was sub par.

Like this comment
Posted by Not Thrilled
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 12, 2011 at 2:27 pm

I took my granddaughter to the Burgess Pool for the first time this last summer. After waiting in line for a lengthy period because the cashier could not get the computer working properly, we paid the fee and entered the pool area for the first time. What a disappointment. The pool was overly crowded, and there was literally no where to sit and relax except for sitting on the ground in a small grassy area. No tables, chairs, lounges, etc. or anything that would be expected at a community pool. It was so bad that my granddaughter said she wanted to leave immediately and so, after having already paying the fee, we left without ever using the pool. I am not surprised that the pool is problematic on a number of fronts. Menlo Park should do better.

Like this comment
Posted by James Madison
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 13, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Did the reporter by any chance check with Fire Department?

Like this comment
Posted by Long Time Menlo Man
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 13, 2011 at 6:01 pm

There's no story here. This horse was dead from the beginning!!

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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