Chris Sloan refuses to let his son die for nothing. Something had to come from a 7-year-old’s electrocution in the swimming pool behind his home.
“You know what’s the worst?” Sloan asked. “Having to answer the question, ‘How are you doing?’ I mean, how am I supposed to answer that? How am I doing? I’m destroyed. We’re all destroyed. It’s an apocalypse. The time before Calder’s death and now is like B.C. and A.D.”
And now Sloan is crusading for state laws that would put tougher regulations on pool lights. He would like to see more stringent home electrical inspections as well. The push to save other kids’ lives keeps the man moving forward after the loss of his own child, whom he called Mr. Awesome.
On April 21, just eight days after his boy died, Sloan posted on his Facebook site a self-portrait that Calder had done. Above it: “Mr. Awesome.” Below: “Adventure. Laughter. Kindness.”
“Calder ‘Mr. Awesome’ Sloan stood for adventure, laughter, and kindness,” Sloan wrote. “Just print his picture, hold it on a phone, or iPad and take it with you anywhere … and post it.”
The next day, Miami Heat star Chris Bosh and Sen. Bill Nelson both posed with the picture, and it appeared on the giant screen outside American Airlines Arena as well. It took off from there, blown up by Sloan’s friends in the entertainment industry — he runs a television production company — and by the unpredictable viral nature of social media.
“I’ve got photos of Tibetan monks holding up that picture,” Sloan said.
But like all Internet memes, the Mr. Awesome photos eventually died down. Sloan still receives one now and again, but not the dozens that came in daily throughout April and May.
To leave something more permanent in memory of his son, Sloan began an effort to ban high-voltage lights from pools.
“People just seemed to connect to that,” Sloan said. “They’re already banned in public pools in Florida, but not in private ones.”
It was a good place to start, but Sloan didn’t even have a high-voltage light in his own pool. It didn’t matter.
On the afternoon of April 13, a friend had invited Sloan and his wife, Carla, to a birthday party. Calder and his 5-year-old brother, Caleb, stayed at their North Miami home with the family nanny and her 22-year-old son.
As Sloan and his wife headed out the door, Calder called after them, “Daddy, Daddy, it’s finally warm enough! I want to go swimming.”
Carla told him no. It wasn’t fair to Caleb, who had just had tubes put in his ears. But Calder begged and pleaded and finally, Sloan relented.
“You know,” he told his wife, “let him go in the pool.”
After the Sloans left, Calder dashed out back and told the nanny’s 22-year-old son, “Hey I can race you to the other side of the pool!”
They both dove in, and Calder took an early lead. The pool light was at the far end of the pool, waiting to greet the winner. The light was attached to a ground wire that had not been connected in the home’s electrical box, and the home’s ground rod was missing.
So when there was a short, rather than the electricity traveling through the wire, into the ground rod and then dissipating into the ground, it flowed the only way it could — out into the water.
The nanny’s son felt a shock. He managed to roll out of the pool and yelled at Calder to do the same. But the boy was underwater — he could swim the whole length of the pool in one breath. The current shot him up out of the water, screaming.
The nanny’s son yanked him out by his hair. A neighbor ran over to perform CPR. Calder was throwing up. The boy was so electrified, his vomit shocked the neighbor’s hand as he tried to wipe it away.
“The pool light electrified the water and caused what’s ruled as a low-voltage execution,” Sloan said.
He meant to say electrocution, but he did not.
More and better inspections might have helped in Sloan’s case, but with 120-volt lights already banned in public pools, getting them replaced by 12-volt lights in private pools as well seemed an easier place to start.
The largest swimming pool industry group in Florida has argued the ban does little good.
“High-voltage lights are no more dangerous than low-voltage lights,” said Wendy Parker, executive director of the Florida Swimming Pool Association. “It’s about how it is installed.”
Still, on Oct. 7 the Miami-Dade County Commission passed an ordinance banning high-voltage pool lights in all new pool construction. A similar regulation passed in Broward County‘s Board of Rules and Appeals on Oct. 20. Miami-Dade also offered low-cost permit fees to homeowners who want to switch existing high-voltage lights for new low-voltage ones. Palm Beach County has begun looking at similar regulations, though nothing has passed yet.
Parker is concerned that countywide piecemeal ordinances will leave contractors confused over where high-voltage pool lights can be installed and where they cannot.
“We would prefer something that covered the entire state,” Parker said.
So would Sloan. Nevertheless, he was surprised when state Rep. Rick Stark, D-Weston, whose district lies well to the northwest of Sloan’s home, sent an unsolicited letter asking to take up the cause in Tallahassee.
Stark just won his second term in office, running unopposed in a heavily Democratic district. But as a Democrat, he is in a minority in Florida’s state House. That makes it difficult to get any bills that he sponsors heard.
Mostly, Stark listened as Sloan poured his heart out — how his son died, how he wants no one else to endure what he must.
Stark can offer up to six bills in a legislative session. For next session, he expects this will be one of them.
“We’d like to name it in your son’s honor,” Stark said. “How’s the Calder Sloan Act sound? Maybe the Mr. Awesome Act?”
“That would be really great,” Sloan said. “The Calder Sloan Act.”
On June 23, the Sloan family filed a lawsuit against the light manufacturer, the pool maintenance company, an electrical company that did work on the home, and the home inspector. That suit is ongoing.
But suing to assign blame or leaving a legacy through state law, both really come down to the same thing.
Calder Sloan died screaming in the pool at his own home, where he should have felt safer than anywhere. And Chris Sloan would like to know why.
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