New Code Removes the Last Direct Suction Lines From Commercial Pools in Florida

By Alex Fletcher, AquaWorx, Inc. / alex@aquaworxusa.com


Here in Florida, we are very proud of our safety record regarding suction entrapment in commercial swimming pools. In 1978, long before the Virginia Graeme Baker Act, Florida mandated that all new commercial pools be built with a gravity flow system where the water flows from the pool through the main drain to the collector tank. The water is then drawn out by the suction of the pump, eliminating the direct suction of the pump from the pool. The record shows that Florida made the right decision. As of 2009, of the approximately 31,000 pools that were built after that date in 1978 using gravity flow, there have been zero suction entrapment incidents. Meanwhile, over the same period on the approximately 6,000 pools that were built before that date and “grandfathered in” with direct suction, there have been six deaths due to suction entrapment. Thus, you could say the State of Florida saved approximately 31 lives by that decision.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of direct suction lines in Florida. Still allowed in commercial pools were vacuum lines, so long as they had a self-closing, self-latching cover and could only be removed with the use of a tool. Unfortunately, there was a design flaw in the covers. The vacuum hose does not fit in the cover without the use of an adapter. These adapters are easily lost or forgotten and it was realized that if you took the cover off, the hose fit perfectly. The cover is held in by a small allen screw, but the screw would often be loosened or taken out altogether leading curious children to remove the covers and therefore the protection.

This dangerous occurrence happens all too often. According to the latest DOH records from 5/1/19 thru 5/2/20, there were 1,083 citations issued for the vacuum, typically for a missing cover.  Being a Type A violation results in the closure of the pool.

This very scenario led to a 4-year-old girl getting her arm stuck in the vacuum port of the pool at an apartment complex in Merritt Island. It took Fire and Rescue personnel 90 minutes to free the little girl’s arm while her mother held her head above water. Afterward, the safety cover was found lying on the floor below the vacuum port.

An aquatic engineer here in Florida had a similar situation occur on a pool he designed. The person cleaning the pool was a young man and on that day his girlfriend was going to meet him on the job and take him to lunch. When she arrived, he got excited and forgot to put the cover back in place and turn off the vacuum pump! This led to a woman becoming entrapped and a lawsuit being filed which named the design firm among others. Luckily, he was able to defeat his portion of the lawsuit but not before spending a great deal of time and money.

He decided then and there that he was not going to design any more pools with a vacuum port. Building on the design of a skimmer, he took the direct suction line out of the pool and put it in the deck. It is essentially a skimmer with an equalizer line instead of the throat and weir.

After many discussions over a couple of code cycles regarding trying to change the cover or removing the dangerous direct suction line itself, the FSPA decided that the line should be removed eliminating all direct suction lines on new commercial pools in Florida. In their place, there are four options.

Provide a Portable Vacuum.

Provide a Robotic Vacuum.

Utilize the skimmers to vacuum the pool if it is a skimmer pool.

Have a dedicated vacuum line and plumb it to a Remote Vacuum Assembly.

Some of these options are a little more expensive while other options are a little more work. But all these options are safer and remove direct suction from the pool. The decision to go to gravity flow in 1978 was both more expensive and more labor-intensive but to this day the FSPA has fought to keep pools on gravity flow and keep out other cheaper, easier, and less safe methods. At the FSPA safety comes first.