Eastside Fire & Rescue backs life vest requirement
June 14, 2011
Eastside Fire & Rescue leaders offered support last week for a King County measure to require boaters and swimmers to wear life vests on major rivers.
The proposal calls for the King County Sheriff’s Office to enforce wearing a U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device on portions of the Raging, Snoqualmie, Tolt, Cedar, Green, Skyhomish and White rivers in unincorporated areas. For first-time violators, the penalty is a warning, but subsequent violators could face fines of up to $86.
If the council approves, the proposed ordinance is due to last through the summer recreation season until Oct. 31.
EFR Deputy Chief Jeff Griffin said the bill is designed to address higher-than-normal river levels. The agency’s service area encompasses large unincorporated areas, including Preston and much of the Snoqualmie Valley.
The tumultuous winter flood season changed river channels and reoriented logs, creating a challenge for boaters and swimmers. The snowpack in some Cascade river basins is about 200 percent of normal.
Griffin said King County experiences about 23 drowning deaths per year. EFR responded to a drowning last month, after a 29-year-old Bothell man drowned in the Snoqualmie River after trying to rescue his dog. The dog made it to shore on its own after the man went in.
EFR board members offered unanimous support for the life jacket measure. Issaquah Councilman Mark Mullet said the requirement “seems like common sense.”
The proposed ordinance calls for the county to post signs at primary access points to major rivers, and to join regional organizations focused on drowning prevent to promote life vest use.
“It feels a little bit Big Brother-ish, but then again, it’s been an unusual year,” board Chairman Ron Pedee said.
King County Executive Dow Constantine, backed by public and health officials and organizations, called for the life vest rule. County Councilman Larry Phillips introduced the measure.
“This proposal will help save lives,” Constantine said in a statement. “River flows are unusually swift and cold this year due to a heavy mountain snowpack that is melting into King County rivers. Rivers are inherently dangerous places to play, but this year is bringing additional risks.
“The wearing of life jackets is as essential for swimmers and boaters as helmets for cyclists and seat belts for drivers.”
County Council members referred the measure to the Transportation, Economy and Environment Committee for consideration June 6.
“We support this proposal,” Sheriff Sue Rahr said in a statement. “The vast majority of river accidents to which our Marine Unit responds could have been prevented if recreationalists had simply worn a PFD (personal flotation device), had been sober or had a better understanding of the dangerous nature of rivers.”
The most recent drowning in the Issaquah area occurred in June 2010 at Lake Sammamish State Park, in unincorporated King County.