A safety reminder: Water dangers lurk despite warmer weather

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LAKE STEVENS, Wash. -- "I want the pink one," says 5-year-old Georgia. She and her friend Magdeline both want the Barbie life jacket out of the cabinet at Willis Wyatt Park.

It's a beautiful sunny day but this early in the afternoon there are lots of other colors and sizes to choose from. Magdeline picks a red life jacket, but the two girls say they'll swap halfway through the afternoon to be fair. Both of these young girls like picking out their own personal flotation device and know how to pick out the right size and wear it correctly.

Even though it's only the end of May, we've already seen eight days of 80-plus temperatures officially at Sea-Tac International Airport. A typical summer has about 26 of those warm days and four days of 90-plus temperatures. On those warm days, people seek the water. But, this early in the season that can have deadly consequences.

Wendy Baxley is watching her daughter and their friend pick out their life jackets while she sets up their blanket and umbrella. She's proud they know about water safety and she knew they were coming to the beach as soon as they happened to drive by Willis Wyatt Park earlier.

Her daughter noticed the life jacket cabinet was unlocked. Her mom said Georgia squealed with joy that the life jackets were back for another season of swimming.

"It's great," Wendy says about the life jacket cabinets. "They get to pick out one and have it for the day. They know how to wear them in the water, they know how to wear them on the boat."

Wyatt Park is one of six parks in Snohomish County that has the life jacket cabinets. The other five: Flowing Lake, Lake Goodwin Community, Wenberg, Martha Lake, Gissberg Twin Lakes. The county started a partnership with SafeKids Snohomish County to purchase the life jackets about a decade ago when the county decided to no longer pay for lifeguard services.

"It's super convenient," says Michelle Wohlford, who is doing double-duty working on her sales website (michellewohhford.nerium.com) and keeping an eye on her 3-year-old. He's wearing a shirt with a built-in flotation device around his chest and inflatable bands around each arm.

Wohlford says it's good that these life jackets come out between Memorial Day and early September. And these life jacket cabinets are unlocked from about 9 a.m. until dusk.

"Safety is always a good thing," says Wohlford.

Shawneri Guzman, with Safe Kids Snohomish County. says some families just can't afford a life jacket or just forget to bring one for their kids. The nonprofit works to replace aging PFDs or ones that walk away with users at the end of the day.

Guzman says that last year, with the record hot summer, several parks were completely out by the middle of summer. She says some families seek out the parks that offer the free PFD to borrow. Statistics show 1 in 5 drowning victims in the U.S. is under the age of 16. In Washington state, Seattle Children's Hospital data from 2009-2013 shows that in an average year about 100 people will lose their lives to accidental drowning.

"Do not go in the water!" shouts 3-year-old Julian, who is sitting on his dad's lap who is sitting with most of his legs in the cold waters of Lake Stevens.
The water is cold, Julian says. Experts say this time of year, the water temperature is the biggest hazard. Even when our air temperatures soar into the 80s or 90s, water is much slower to heat up. For many more weeks, our lakes will have temperatures in the 50s and our area rivers can have temperatures in the upper 40s. That kind of cold water can sap the energy of even the strongest of swimmers. Hypothermia also can happen far faster in cold water than cold air.
For these parents in Lake Stevens, they say they try to find a balance between safety and fun.
"These days don't come very often," says Michelle Wohlford. "It's summer. So enjoy your time because you only live once."
Life guards will be returning to many beaches in King County by June 20.
And an important life skill that people should have on a planet that is made up of mostly of water: how to swim.
The city of Seattle offers free swim lessons around the noon hour everyday at their lifeguard beaches. For more on swimming lessons and which beaches have lifeguards, go to this website: https://kingcountyparks.files.wordpress.com/2015/07/swimming-area-information-king-county-07-2-15-final-draft.pdf
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