Stanislaus County mulls life jacket lending program

kcarlson@modbee.comMay 13, 2013 

BA Labor Day prep 1

BART AH YOU/ - Labor Day is this weekend as some day campers have cool fun at Woodward Reservoir, Wednesday afternoon. August 31, 2011

    alternate textKen Carlson
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: County government, health and medicine, air quality, the environment and public pension systems
    Bio: Ken Carlson has worked 13 years for The Bee, covering local government agencies in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties. His in-depth reporting has focused on access to health care and public employee pensions.
    Recent stories written by Ken

— Stanislaus County officials are hoping a life jacket loan program will prevent accidental drownings at reservoirs.

This morning, county supervisors could approve a trial program to run May 25 to Sept. 1 at Woodward Reservoir, a 6,667-acre lake in the northeastern part of the county where several drownings have occurred in recent years.

The California Department of Boating and Waterways has agreed to donate 75 life jackets to the county. On Saturdays and Sundays, visitors to the county-operated recreation area at Woodward could borrow life jackets free of charge before going into or near the water.

If the county finds that people are using the jackets and returning them, the loaners could be offered at Modesto Reservoir next year, said Jami Aggers, director of county environmental resources.

Aggers doesn't expect the program to cost the county anything, and she hopes it will save lives. Volunteers with the Sheriff's Team of Active Retired Seniors would use a building at Woodward to loan the jackets and receive returns from noon to 4 p.m. weekends.

The county effort would extend a state program that has worked with agencies in California to loan life jackets to the public. The Stanislaus Consolidated and Oakdale fire departments are among the participating agencies.

"People who are swimming don't realize how tired they can become," Aggers said. "We had a couple of tragedies last year and, when we found out about the (donated life jackets), we wanted to give it a try."

On Father's Day last year, Ernesto Hernandez, 49, of Modesto drowned while swimming with his family at Woodward Reservoir. After the man went underwater, family members pulled him out and started cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Deputies who responded continued CPR until an ambulance took Hernandez to Oak Valley Hospital in Oakdale, where he was pronounced dead.

On Sept. 13, 2011, sheriff's divers recovered the body of a 30-year-old man who drowned at Woodward. The man's girlfriend had reported the suspected drowning the previous evening near the south end of the reservoir, east of the main gates.

Neither of the victims was wearing a life jacket.

Just fill out a form

The county would make life jackets available for younger children, teens and adults. Those interested would fill out forms requiring their names, addresses, phone numbers, driver's license numbers and vehicle license plates.

"It seems like every year, we have drownings in our rivers or reservoirs," Supervisor Bill O'Brien said. "This is a good program, and we hope it saves as many lives as possible."

The Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District makes life jackets available for adults and children at its fire stations in Empire, Waterford and Riverbank. The loaners also are available at the Oakdale city and rural fire stations and Stanislaus River parks, according to a state website.

Stanislaus Consolidated Battalion Chief Rick Bussell said signs telling about the loaners are posted at parks and waterways. Families knock on the station doors during daytime hours, are asked to fill out forms and can keep the life-saving vests for multiple days.

Bussell said participation is "sporadic," and every year, about a dozen life jackets are never seen again. "People are pretty good about returning them," he noted.

For the location of life jacket loan stations in California, visit

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at or (209) 578-2321.


The Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors meets at 9 a.m. today in the basement chamber of Tenth Street Place, at 1010 10th St., Modesto. The following items will be considered:

• A report on the county's medical self-insurance program for county employees

• An agreement for Modesto City Schools to use the equestrian area at the Sheriff's Operation Center on Hackett Road for Future Farmers of America and 4-H Club instruction

• A public hearing on engineering and land survey fees assessed by the Public Works Department

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