The family of a man who drowned a year ago in the swimming pool at the Quality Inn & Suites Seattle Center has filed a wrongful-death suit against the owners of the hotel, claiming poor maintenance made the water unusually murky and contributed to a botched rescue operation by firefighters.
[…] The hotel operators, Seattle Hospitality Inc., last Friday filed a third-party complaint seeking to draw the city of Seattle into the suit as a second defendant, claiming the Seattle Fire Department failed to conduct an adequate water rescue and didn’t find Deboch in the pool after firefighters were summoned to the hotel.
Except it’s hard to perform an adequate water rescue when the water is so filthy that you can’t see the victim.
[…] Seattle firefighters arrived within 2½ minutes of the call, according to Fire Department records. They searched the pool using a rescue hook and thermal-imaging camera but found no sign of Deboch.
A Fire Department report states that firefighters “believed they were visually able to confirm that no victim was in the pool” and thought they could see the pool’s bottom.
A civilian also got in the pool to search for Deboch, but no firefighters entered the water, according to the report.
I worked three summers as a lifeguard (i.e. pool boy) at swimming pools at four different residential apartment buildings in Philadelphia, and I can tell you that we would’ve been fired had we allowed the water to get anywhere near that sort of condition. We checked chlorine and pH levels throughout the day, and would clear swimmers out of the pool if the chemicals ever got out of whack. Murkiness wasn’t even an option.
“There were more than a dozen people allowed back in the pool to swim,” Micah LeBank, the attorney representing Deboch’s family, said in an interview this week. “The hotel let people get back into that murky water and swim around, unable to see the body.”
When Deboch still wasn’t found, his friends searched the pool again.
Tom Fleming, a 51-year-old off-duty firefighter vacationing at the hotel, joined in the search and cleared the pool of swimmers, according to the Fire Department report.
The Seattle Times reported last year that after about a 10-minute search Fleming felt something in the center of the deep end of the pool. He asked the hotel to turn off the pump and was able to pull up Deboch’s body.
“You could not see him until you got him 18 inches to the surface,” Fleming told The Times last year. “I was fishing around and even though he was at the very bottom, he was not always in the same spot. Finding a victim in a pool in that condition is like trying to find a needle in a haystack.”
Granted, water clarity at indoor pools is more difficult to maintain due to the lack of natural oxidation from sunlight, but that’s no excuse. The hotel was clearly negligent.* And their effort to make taxpayers liable by pulling the fire department into the lawsuit is offensive.
Given the time that had already elapsed, firefighters might have been able to pull the victim from the pool without permanent neurological damage, had they been able to immediately locate the body. But the cloudy water made a timely rescue—about a 10 minute window—all but impossible. From the facts presented in the press, there is no question that improper pool maintenance impeded firefighters’ ability to do their job.
Swimming pools are potential public health hazards, both due to the drowning risk and the spread of disease causing organisms like Cryptosporidium, Giardia, and E. coli. That’s why they’re so heavily regulated. So if a hotel is going to seek a competitive edge by offering guests the amenity of an indoor pool, then the hotel has both a moral and legal obligation to properly secure and maintain it.
The hotel should settle with the victim’s family and leave Seattle taxpayers out of it.
* My former editors at The Stranger never would have allowed me to use such direct language, for fear that the use of such a legalistic term like “negligence” might leave the paper vulnerable to a defamation suit. But my own personal experience as a former pool maintenance professional leaves zero question in my mind that it is negligent to allow guests into water so cloudy that they could swim for three hours without noticing the dead body at the bottom of the pool. And as a blogger, I feel that it would be negligent of me to shy away from bluntly speaking the truth.