WASHINGTON, D.C. (WUSA9)--This story could mean the difference between life and a sudden, preventable death. It's especially important to consider during these hot summer months when people are flocking to swimming pools. Using the Freedom of Information Act, WUSA9 accessed thousands of pages of pool inspection reports and learned what you can do to keep your family safe.
If you go to a pool or a spa — whether it's at someone's home, in your neighborhood or at a hotel — make sure every single drain has a cover. That easy safety check could save a life.
Karen Cohn knows the heartbreak firsthand.
"He was a very curious 6-year-old boy and he loved to swim. He was a great swimmer," she said of her son, Zachary.
That made his death even more devastating. His young life, cut painfully short in his family's own backyard swimming pool.
"We didn't know," said Karen Cohn. Her heartbroken family had no idea a dislodged drain cover could become a death trap. Zac's arm was sucked into a pool drain. The force was so strong, even his father and another adult couldn't pry him off.
"It doesn't matter if you're a 330-pound body builder or you're an 18-pound small child, it affects everybody approximately the same. The only way to get off that drain is by shutting off the pump," said Anthony Sirianni, a pool safety expert with PSD Industries.
With the help of Sirianni, we simulated a potential entrapment, by attaching long hair to a pole and passing it over an uncovered drain. It was sucked in immediately and quickly became entangled.
"It can happen to anybody in any swimming pool at any time," said Sirianni.
It can take just 17 seconds to drown.
"You need to look at the pool, identify where the drains are and make sure that they have covers. If they do not have covers, do not get in that pool," he said. "It is the most unsafe situation you can encounter."
We searched thousands of swimming pool inspection reports obtained through the Freedom of Information Act from D.C. and several suburbs. Among the critical violations uncovered: cracked and loose drain covers. They have since been corrected.
"He was a fun, happy, sweet boy," remembered Karen Cohn. After her son's horrific death, she's making sure other children live.
You might think she'd stay away from swimming pools, but she's embraced them, teaching children nationwide about pool safety. She knows Zac would have wanted it that way.
For tips on water safety: http://www.thezacfoundation.com
Remember, your first critical line of defense is that main drain cover. But you can purchase a second layer of protection that costs just $35. It's installed directly into the drain so if the cover is dislodged or breaks, it will keep your family safe.
For more information, go to: www.psdindustries.com
Written by Andrea McCarren, WUSA9