It’s almost that time of year when thousands will flock to Penticton’s river channel for a leisurely seven kilometre float toward Skaha Lake. But for first responders, this is also a time of heightened vigilance.
Penticton Fire Department chief Larry Watkinson gave committee members a rundown on their plans for this year’s rescue plans at the city’s safety and security advisory committee March 29.
“The Penticton Fire Department will again be conducting river channel rescues once needed,” said Watkinson. “We had 15 near drownings last year, which was a unique year, with fast-moving water.”
Education will be a large component in the coming months, encouraging the public to call 9-1-1 when someone is in distress, Watkinson said.
The fire department will continue to work with partnering agencies to ensure they receive early notification when someone is in distress in the water.
“Seconds count when you’re drowning,” said Watkinson.
“We have really dialled in our rescue program with our swift water rescue team,” he said. “The system we’re using works very well. The education piece is a very big part of it. The challenge we face is we have been doing this for years but we’re seeing larger groups, bigger flotation devices and people tying them together.”
Committee member Deirdre Riley questioned whether children are required to wear life jackets.
Watkinson said that, according to federal law, everyone must be wearing a life jacket, but that it’s difficult to enforce.
Watkinson also said Penticton is sharing its marine rescue programs with other cities.
Watkinson said the marine rescue program was created in 2017 and has become more robust each year. Penticton has consulted with Calgary and Hawaii and has conducted a lot of training in the area of water rescue.
“I get calls on a regular basis on the development of our program and I’m quite proud of it,” he said.