• Kyodo


An 18-year-old former lifeguard at a municipal swimming pool in Fujimino, Saitama Prefecture, where a 7-year-old girl died Monday after being sucked into an intake pipe whose protective grille had come off, said her employer never briefed her on the workings of the circular pool or the danger of the intake.

The woman was hired to watch over visitors at the pool during the summer from 2003 to 2005 and said many of her colleagues were high school students like herself, hired as part-time lifeguards, and some were barely able to swim.

Kyomei Planning, a Saitama-based building maintenance company subcontracted to manage the city-run pool, did not consider swimming ability as a necessary qualification when hiring lifeguards, she said.

The woman said her job was to sit on a stoop by the pool to keep an eye on the swimmers.

The lifeguards carried walkie-talkies while on duty and were told to report to a monitoring room if anything went wrong, but no manuals existed on handling accidents or emergencies, she said.

The former lifeguard said she also knew of the intake but never thought it would pose a danger.

In Monday’s accident, a protective grille fell off several minutes before Erika Tomaru was sucked into the pipe. The grille had been fixed to the wall by wire — not by bolts as it should have been.

Kyomei Planning was subcontracted the work from Taiyo Kanzai K.K., a Saitama-based facility maintenance company. But Taiyo Kanzai did not tell Fujimino officials about the subcontracting, which in itself was a breach of the contract between the contractor and the city.

“I can’t understand” the city’s failure to notice the subcontracting, the former lifeguard said. She recalled seeing the Kyomei name printed on a shirt the company’s field operator was wearing at the pool.

Tomaru was swimming in the pool Monday afternoon when she was sucked into the pipe. It took rescuers six hours to get her body out of the pipe, and only after they dug through the adjacent ground.

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