MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – A WCCO investigation has uncovered a gap in state pool inspections that the St. Paul fire marshal says may have contributed to a tragedy involving two young brothers.
Paramedics pulled 10-year-old Ma Kpaw and 7-year-old Sher Kpor from an apartment pool in St. Paul Monday afternoon. Kpaw is expected to be okay, but Kpor is fighting for his life.
The brothers somehow got around a fence and wound up in about six feet of dirty rainwater. Investigators think the older boy went in to save his younger brother. The frantic moments of the rescue were captured on video, a mother screaming when she realized her sons were submerged in the murky water:
WCCO-TV’s Natalie Nyhus Reports
A 2009 state law put apartment pools under the supervision of the Minnesota Department of Health and required yearly inspections. That never happened with the St. Paul pool.
Our investigation found that even though state law puts all public pools under the supervision of the Minnesota Department of Health, the department is not inspecting or monitoring abandoned or closed public pools.
The trouble is no one in the city of St. Paul knew that.
St. Paul Fire Marshal Steve Zaccard said he was shocked to find out that no one in St. Paul is inspecting or monitoring abandoned pools.
“Pool safety in Minnesota is the responsibility of the Minnesota Department of Health,” he said. “It’s not with the city of St. Paul.”
Zaccard said he has no idea how many other pools are abandoned in the city, but the St. Paul Fire Department is now offering to drain any abandoned or closed pools in the city for free.
“We are in the life-saving business, and this will save lives,” he said.
Zaccard said it was his understanding that the health department had taken over supervising all public pool properties from the city of St Paul in 2013.
The current owner and neighbors say the pool had not been used for more than a decade. Public records say in 2011 the city inspected the property and gave it an “A” rating. The records don’t mention the pool.
The current owner said the city also inspected the property this year and renewed his rental license. The fire marshal said the owners’ lock and fencing around the pool was adequate, but the six feet of dirty water was clearly a danger.
Zaccard said both regulations and inspections of abandoned pools statewide need to be reviewed.
“It needs to be looked at,” he said. “There is a gap: Once a pool is closed, who is responsible?”
The St. Paul Fire Department has offered to drain St. Paul residents’ abandoned, in-ground pools that have at least a foot of water. The fire department will drain your pool for free if you call 651-228-6214.
We did find one community that does have a regulation for handling closed pools. Hennepin County handles its own pool inspections instead of leaving it to the health department. And if there’s a problem with an abandoned pool, the property owner has 10 days to come up with a temporary solution and 10 months to come up with a permanent one.
City inspections officials in St. Paul could not be reached for this story.