Belmont has always maintained strict safety measures for its historic
“We would not open it if we couldn’t see the bottom of the deep or the shallow ends,” said pool manager Lorraine Benoit on Friday, July 1.
“I’ve been doing this for 35 years are we have never been short-staffed for the number of people we have swimming here.”
In the wake of the death of 36-year-old Marie Joseph in the water of Veteran’s Memorial Pool in Fall River on Tuesday, June 28, the state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) closed all 30 of its deep-water pools until an investigation into the swimming death has been completed.
The Underwood is a residential pool, run by the town, and not subject to DCR dictates, Benoit said.
“We opened the season last Friday and had a full inspection by the Department of Public Health on June 26,” she said.
“My department (recreation) inspected all first-aid equipment and the bath house and the maintenance department checks the water quality of the pool every single day,” Benoit said.
The Belmont Health Department inspects the pool physical layout, water quality and associated facilities and equipment such as life savings equipment and first aid equipment.
"The health department certify that all life guard and certified pool operators are up to date and when everything is ready, we issue the permit," said Stefan Russakow, director of the town's health department.
The Underwood – the oldest public pool in the country celebrating its 99th season – has a large staff of lifeguards both during daily swimming lessons and for general use, Benoit said.
It’s an unusual pool with an island right in the middle, she pointed out.
“There’s always a lifeguard sitting there, looking down and into the deep end,” Benoit said.
“When it’s busy here at the pool, we can have up to six lifeguards watching the entire time people are swimming here.”
While the current standards and staffing at the Underwood has prevented a drowning in most residents memory, the pool in its early years was the location of several tragic events and, in some cases, eerily like the Fall River incident.
In July 1935, the Belmont Citizen reported that the Underwood playground swimming pool claimed "another" victim that week when John F. Looney Jr, a seven-year-old third grader at the Homer school who lived on 11 Farm Rd., "lost his life while swimming in the deeper section of the pool. The accident was unknown to the lifeguards and the three hundred children at the pool until about 4:45 p.m. when two men diving to the bottom of the pool and hit the boy's body."
An editorial called the lifeguards "the most capable young men fully alive to their responsibilities." But it was the conditions of the pool that prevented them from "seeing the bottom."