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Keeping kids safe on the water, one life vest at a time

2016 Life Jacket Giveaway at Modesto Reservoir

In 2016, Safe Kids Stanislaus gave away 200 free life vests to low-income children at Modesto Reservoir as part of a water safety program. There have been six drownings at Stanislaus County reservoirs this year. (Marijke Rowland/mrowland@modbee.co
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In 2016, Safe Kids Stanislaus gave away 200 free life vests to low-income children at Modesto Reservoir as part of a water safety program. There have been six drownings at Stanislaus County reservoirs this year. (Marijke Rowland/mrowland@modbee.co

On a typically hot, sunny Central Valley summer day, heads bobbed up and down in Modesto Reservoir as kids sought relief in the water. But on Saturday, more of those heads were being buoyed with the help of brand-new life vests.

Safe Kids Stanislaus, a coalition of local health care providers, family service groups and law enforcement agencies, had 200 free life jackets to give away to children Saturday morning. The program provided the vests along with lessons in water education, CPR and other safety precautions to low-income families.

“You hear about all the (drownings) that have happened at the reservoirs this year and you worry. I’ve got kids of my own,” said Turlock resident Roger Martins, who was at Modesto Reservoir on Saturday with his family and friends. “These (new vests) help give us a sense of security.”

Martins’ three children – ages 8, 4 and 2 – all received free new vests through the program.

You hear about all the (drownings) that have happened at the reservoirs this year and you worry. I’ve got kids of my own. These (new vests) help give us a sense of security.

Turlock resident Roger Martins

This has been a deadly water-recreation season at area reservoirs. So far there have been five drowning deaths, at least one a month since April: an 18-year-old Stockton man at Woodward Reservoir in April, two 15-year-old Oakland teens at Woodward Reservoir over Memorial Day weekend in May, an 11-year-old Keyes boy at Modesto Reservoir in June and a 40-year-old San Jose man at Modesto Reservoir over Fourth of July weekend. Reportedly, none of the victims wore life vests.

Stanislaus County sheriff’s Lt. Larry Seymour was at the giveaway offering safety information to participants. His department has 10 to 14 deputies who patrol the reservoirs on weekends. Members of Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District’s water rescue unit also were on hand to give tips on water safety and what to do when someone is drowning.

“If people were wearing their life jackets, it would have been 100 percent helpful. None of the drowning victims were wearing life jackets. If people are wearing their life jackets someone can get to them,” Seymour said.

Drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional child death in Stanislaus County, behind motor vehicle accidents, according to the California Department of Public Health. Because of that, and recent incidents, Safe Kids Stanislaus focused on the life vest and water safety program. Rena Lepard, who coordinates the Safe Kids Stanislaus program for Doctors Medical Center, said the group applied for and received a grant to run the program for the first time in the county.

“This gives us a good opportunity to also educate the parents on keeping their children safe around any water, water including pools in and around home,” Lepard said. “We hear a lot of stories from people – ‘Oh, this almost happened by the water.’ ‘Oh, that almost happened by the water.’ We just want to keep them safe.”

This gives us a good opportunity to also educate the parents on keeping their children safe around any water, water including pools in and around home.

Rena Lepard, coordinator of Doctors Medical Center’s Safe Kids Stanislaus program

Nearby Woodward Reservoir just north of Oakdale has an ongoing Life Jacket Loaner Station where all park visitors can borrow life jackets – from infants to adults – for use during their visit. While Modesto Reservoir does not have a dedicated life vest program, jackets are available to lend from the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire station in Waterford and other surrounding stations.

Modesto mother of three Leticia Rodriguez came to Modesto Reservoir on Saturday morning specifically to get her children fitted for vests. Her 12-year-old daughter Paloma Mendoza said she and her siblings were happy to have their new vests. She has already had a couple of close calls while visiting Woodward Reservoir and nearly fallen in the water.

“We can’t swim yet and want to learn. So this makes me feel a lot better,” she said while wearing her new red life jacket.

At a nearby beach, dozens of families splashed just off the shore – several of the children wearing their new vests. Watching from the sand, Juan Zambrano of Vallejo said he was grateful for the giveaway. A large group of about 30 had come to the reservoir for the weekend and 10 of his grandkids received new vests. He said while they already had life jackets for all the children, some weren’t the right size and others were older.

“I’ve been coming to this reservoir since 1994, and I’ve never seen anything like this before. It’s a beautiful thing. I read about the drowning and it’s not a good thing,” he said. “This makes me feel better overall. Not just for my grandkids, but for all the kids out here. This made my whole weekend.”

Marijke Rowland: 209-578-2284, @marijkerowland

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