The 2010 Florida Building Code requires that residential pools have at least one of the following safety features:
A pool barrier around the entire pool, separating it from the home.
An approved safety pool cover.
Alarms on all windows and doors providing direct access from the home to the pool with a minimum sound rating of 85 decibels.
Self-closing, self-latching devices on doors leading to the pool with a release mechanism no lower than 54 inches above the floor.
Ivy Scholtz' skin had turned purple by the time she was pulled from a Golden Gate Estates swimming pool.
"She was already dead," said her aunt, Annette Kniola, 43, who watched paramedics wheel the 3-year-old girl into the hospital.
Ivy drowned during a friend's party in 2006, a month after her birthday, when adults had their backs turned. Drowning claims more children ages 1 to 4 than any other fatal accident in Collier County, according to the Florida Department of Health.
To avoid accidents, the Florida Building Code requires all residential pools be surrounded by locked gates and alarms be installed on all home windows and doors facing a pool.
Ivy's relatives say the features could save lives, but for some homeowners without children, installing alarms and fencing has become an annoyance."We're not against child protection alarms," said Naples resident David Mastran. "But couldn't it be a chime? A ding-dong? Something like that?"
Mastran and his wife Donna, both 69, live on First Avenue South where they recently had a pool and hot tub installed in their back yard — among the 137 pools, spas and ponds permitted in 2010 according to the city.
Alarms on the Mastran's doors and windows sound at 85 decibels — the same as most smoke detectors — when anyone leaves the house in the direction of the pool. Annoyed by the volume, the Mastrans deactivated the alarm on their main sliding door.
"He's like a cat on a hot tin roof," Donna Mastran said of her husband. "I have to tell him when I'm running the blender."
Homeowners who deactivate alarms, leave gates unlocked or fail to repair faulty safety equipment are more susceptible to legal action should someone drown or injure themselves at their pool. The code states homeowners who don't adhere to the regulations could face a second degree misdemeanor.
Sharon Hanlon, an attorney and partner of Zelman & Hanlon in Naples, has won lawsuits for families whose toddlers, teenagers or elderly relatives drown or injure themselves in water-related accidents.
"If you do everything right (as a homeowner), it's harder to bring a claim against you," Hanlon said. "First because there probably won't be a serious injury and second because there will be a defense."
Tom Threlkeld, president of Nassau Pools Construction in Naples, said to deactivate an alarm, homeowners used to have to cut through power cords, permanently breaking the fixtures. Now residents can remove and reinstall batteries, which at least keeps the alarms around for the next owner. Still, Threlkeld is aware of the many pools in Naples and throughout Florida that were not retroactively affected by changes to the state's code since alarms were first required.
"Not many people are calling us about getting their pools into compliance, which is kind of frustrating," he said.
The Heller family in Port Royal had extra fencing installed around their pool 20 inches from the water's edge last year to protect their 17-month-old son. The 4-foot, 5-inch high fence serves as a second barrier between Max and an accident. Made with fiber glass posts and nylon-dipped mesh, its creators at Protect-a-Child Pool Fence of Southwest Florida tout its indestructibility.
"I feel good when I leave people's homes," said Russ Weaver, who owns the Protect-a-Child distributorship in Lee and Collier counties.
Alex Heller, 39, said she and her husband deactivated pool alarms at their last Naples home before they had Max, but now appreciate the feature, however loud.
"If I didn't have a baby, would I have it? Oh goodness, no," she said. "It's brutal."
The city of Naples inspects all new pools for safety features required by the 2010 Florida building code. Building official Paul Bollenback said 90 percent of new homeowners in Naples have pools installed. When the city awards certificates of occupancy to homeowners, pool alarms have to work the day of inspection and aren't checked after the fact.
A pool alarm may not have saved Ivy.
The blue-eyed girl would have turned 9 Wednesday. Instead, she missed the butterfly cake her mother Mary Scholtz made. She missed the dozens who gathered in her memory to sing "Happy Birthday." She missed the release of helium balloons into the sky with handwritten notes.
"It's a horrible thing for anyone to go through," said Scholtz, 46. "If we can prevent one drowning, an alarm is worth it."
Pool Safety Tips
■ Never leave a child unattended near water in a pool, tub, bucket or ocean. There is no substitute for adult supervision.
■ Designate a “Water Watcher” to maintain constant watch over children in the pool during gatherings.
■ The home should be isolated from the pool with a fence at least 60” tall, with a self-closing, self-latching gate. The gate should open away from the pool, and should never be propped open.
■ Doors and windows should be alarmed to alert adults when opened. Doors should be self-closing and self-latching.
■ Power-operated pool safety covers are the most convenient and efficient. Solar/floating pool covers are not safety devices.
■ Keep a phone at poolside so that you never have to leave the pool to answer the phone, and can call for help if needed.
■ Learn CPR and rescue breathing.
■ Keep a life-saving ring, shepherd’s hook and CPR instructions mounted at poolside.
■ Do not use flotation devices as a substitute for supervision.
■ Never leave water in buckets or wading pools.
■ If a child is missing, always check the pool first. Seconds count.
■ Remove toys from in and around the pool when not in use.
■ Don’t use floating chlori1ne dispensers that look like toys.
■ Instruct babysitters about potential pool hazards, and emphasize the need for constant supervision.
■ Responsibilities of pool ownership include ensuring children in the home learn to swim, and that adults know CPR.
■ Do not consider children “drownproof” because they’ve had swimming lessons.
Source: National Drowning Prevention Alliance