In the waters near North Tapps Park on Lake Tapps, there is a “deceiving sense of safety,” according to Dina Sutherland, public education specialist for East Pierce Fire and Rescue.
East Pierce Fire and Rescue will present its second Summer Splash-Tacular event from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday at Allan Yorke Park to talk about the dangers of swimming without lifejackets in cold water.
“Water safety is one of our top educational and prevention priorities,” Sutherland said. “We have drownings every year. We place a huge emphasis on water safety and drowning prevention.”
Sutherland said there is a large buoyed area there that’s not a designated swimming area, and there are no lifeguards on Lake Tapps. She said there’s typically at least one drowning per summer in the area, and they usually happen at North Tapps Park. A high school student drowned at the south end of Lake Tapps at Allan Yorke Park last summer, she said.
East Pierce Fire and Rescue held a Summer Splash-Tacular event July 27, and youth and adults attended to play games to test their water-safety knowledge. Other activities included spraying water from a fire hose and talking with the underwater divers of the fire department’s water rescue team.
This summer marks the fifth anniversary of the water safety awareness program.
Troy Sterrenburg, a firefighter and assistant lead for boat operations with the water rescue team, was the diver who went underwater last month and talked to children on shore via a communication line that connects with a headset.
“I would say I got at least 30 to 50 kids giving me their names,” Sterrenburg said. “Kids think it’s cool to talk back and forth. It’s also interesting for high school seniors to see it as a career path. We engage the older crowd and teach them what this is and what we do.”
But outside of learning about the equipment the water rescue team uses, Sterrenburg said drowning prevention is a serious matter.
“There are four to five drownings on Lake Tapps every year,” he said. “Some of them were kids that weren’t wearing lifejackets. The lake can be very murky. It’s a glacier-fed lake. As soon as you touch the bottom, there is zero visibility. (Swimmers) can’t find their way out, which also makes it hard for us to find them.”
Sutherland said most drowning victims on Lake Tapps are from out of town.
“People from southern states come here, and they aren’t used to the cold temperatures of the water,” she said. “The cold water can slow your responsiveness and lower your body’s core temperature.”
Sutherland said the temperature of the water during the summer season on Lake Tapps ranges from 55 to 60 degrees.
“The drowning is very silent, not a lot slashing around,” she said. “The body is not warm enough to scream.”
Drownings are not unique to Lake Tapps. Statewide, 74 percent of children who drown are in open waters like lakes, Sutherland said.Reporter Andrew Fickes can be reached at 253-552-7001 or by email at andrew.fickes@ puyallupherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @herald_andrew.