Bill Rowley knows how scary it is to get trapped on a pool drain. “I got nailed once or twice and had a big round bruise on my stomach,” he says. The bruise from the entrapment even had his former company’s logo imprinted on it from the drain where his stomach made contact. Friends and colleagues joked that he was a walking advertisement. The bigger picture, however, is hardly funny. The difference between him and the other victims he’s trying to save is that he gets entrapped for research.
The 74-year-old is founder of Rowley International Inc., a consulting engineering firm in Palos Verdes Estates, Calif., whose projects include the White House pool and the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics pool. His suction entrapment research has been going on for so long (since 1974), it’s turned into a hobby of sorts. It began when he sat on the International Society of Plumbing Engineers. The group was discussing a recent death of a young child entrapped in a hot tub, and asked him to investigate. As director of engineering for Swimquip at the time, Rowley created a test setup at hiscompany’s lab and sent himself down to figure out what happened to the child.
Through the years, Rowley’s tested vacuum release devices, single main drains, dual main drains, grate quality, covers, and combinations of all the different aspects that can cause or prevent suction entrapment. He’s shared his findings with the Consumer Products Safety Commission and the National Swimming Pool Foundation. He’s written formal papers and copied everyone he knew on them, mostly to local health departments. Through NSPF, he put together the Aquatic Safety Compendium, which covers everything from drowning to suction entrapment to aquatic litigation. His tests for suction entrapment were used as a model code for all 50 states.
Rowley’s worked with NSPF’s CPO courses to include sections on the problem. He’s involved with SPEC and tried pushing dual-main-drain legislation, including the one that passed in Florida. As a life fellow with the Society of Mechanical Engineers, he’s worked on code requirements for grate quality, which he believes has helped alleviate the problem. He has never turned down a chance to speak to the media on the topic, either.
While Rowley believes his research has helped decrease the number of incidences, it’s also fueled a mini-industry he worries is more interested in profit than protection. “Suction entrapment is no longer people trying to save people,” he says. “It’s somebody trying to sell a product.”
Rowley, however, says he’s not selling anything. “It’s sort of unique — I’m not selling a product,” he says. “What I’ve tried to do is get the truth out.”