Loaner life jackets disappearing from parks around county

EVERETT — They hope it’s not happening on purpose.

It’s easier to imagine a family walking off from a lake day, absentmindedly carrying home a loaner life jacket, when the alternative is blatant theft.

Roughly 100 loaner life jackets were stocked in cabinets at parks around the county on May 22. The supplies already are dwindling, said Shawneri Guzman, with Safe Kids Snohomish County.

The loaner life jacket program is a partnership between Safe Kids, Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, the county parks department, and local police and firefighters. It started more than a decade ago, around the same time the county stopped posting lifeguards at local swimming holes.

“We all have the same goal,” Guzman said. “No one wants to have to rescue a child or see a child drown, or an adult. Having this program is really important to a lot of people.”

They keep some extra life jackets around for a mid-summer restock, because a few always go missing.

Usually the restock is needed in mid-July. Hot, dry weather moved that up. If jackets keep disappearing, the program might be over for the summer.

“The life jackets are just gone when they’re gone,” Guzman said. “Typically we’re able to get through a full summer with our stock of life jackets. This year they’re just going too quickly and too early in the season.”

That’s a scary thought considering the number of drowning deaths in the county every year. Two water rescues have been reported here since Sunday, both for swimmers who went under in rivers. One of the men, 21, has died. No update has been provided on the other.

There are 10 life jacket cabinets in the county in all, with the newest one opened this year at Lake Tye in Monroe. All are posted in designated swim areas, most often lakes. Rivers aren’t safe for swimming, Guzman said.

“We’re really serious about having families going to designated swim areas,” she said.

Snohomish County sheriff’s Lt. Rodney Rochon has been working on boats for 35 years. He helped get jackets for the first cabinet, which was built as a boy’s Eagle Scout project. Rochon’s been an “amazing champion” of the program, Guzman said.

Many drowning deaths from boating or swimming are preventable, Rochon said.

“If you’re not a strong swimmer or you’re in water that’s unfamiliar, wear a life jacket. If you’re not in a swimming pool that has a lifeguard, wear a life jacket,” he said. “It’s real simple.”

The jackets are meant to benefit everyone for daily use, Guzman said. Not everyone can afford new jackets and kids quickly outgrow last summer’s sizes. The program relies on grants, donations and corporate sponsors.

Sometimes, the donations come from families who have lost someone to drowning.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

Learn more

The loaner life jacket program accepts jackets that are new or gently used. The sizes most needed are for toddlers, children and adult smalls. Cash is accepted. Coupons also are available to help people purchase their own jackets. If you live far from Everett, check with your local police or fire department for a potential jacket donation drop-off spot closer to home.

The cabinet locations are Martha Lake, Twin Lakes, Lake Tye, Wenberg County Park, Lake Goodwin, Silver Lake, Wyatt Park, the downtown Lake Stevens boat launch, Flowing Lake and Dagmars Marina.

Fire departments with loaner life jackets include Index, Marysville, Monroe and Sultan. Dagmars also has a cabinet.

For more information, go to www.providence.org/nw-safekids or call 425-261-3047.

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