Loaner Life Jacket Stations Aim to Save Lives at Area Lakes
With the summer heat rising in Texas, many families are making their way to area lakes to cool off. And if they don’t already have a life jacket -- a new Lifeguard Your Child initiative aims to make sure they are protected in and around the water.
The Center for Children’s Health (C4CH), led by Cook Children’s, installed its first loaner life jacket station in the spring of 2020. The stations provide five different sizes of U.S. Coast Guard approved life jackets, ranging from infant to adult, that can be borrowed and returned. The goal is to make sure no child or adult drowns at a public lake because they didn’t have access to a life jacket.
“Texas has a lot of lakes and having a loaner station at entry points is a great reminder for families,” said Amy Johnson, program coordinator for the Center for Children’s Health. “The signage on the station not only explains how it works but also how to properly fit a life jacket.”
Sadly, the number of drowning patients seen at Cook Children’s this month has already surpassed the number of patients seen in the same time period of 2020. So far, 35 children have been admitted to Cook Children’s for drowning, with two deaths. Three of the drownings occurred at area lakes.
The loaner life jacket program has 12 stations at lakes across DFW, including:
- Flower Mound
The stations are constructed by Lifeguard Your Child partner and Texas-based construction firm, Linbeck. C4CH plans to extend the stations to pools in neighborhoods and communities soon.
Cleburne resident Robin Kiel has lived across the street from Lake Pat Cleburne for more than 30 years. As a former pediatric intensive care (PICU) nurse, she has seen her fair share of drownings and fatalities.
Recently, the two new loaner life jacket stations at the lake caught her attention.
“I saw something out of the corner of my eye one day and went to check it out,” Kiel said. “Once I realized it was a loaner life jacket station from Cook Children’s, all I could think about was how many lives could be saved.”
Kiel and her family have seen several tragedies while living directly across from the lake. She recalls instances over the years when helicopters have landed in her yard to transport a child to the emergency room, or emergency personnel rushing past her house to save someone’s life. Kiel says these moments are hard to watch, but what’s even worse is watching the number of children who enter the lake without a life jacket.
“During my time as a nurse, I’ve seen tragedy after tragedy,” Robin explained. “The hardest part was the water fatalities that could have been avoided. There's a lot of children that swim without life jackets and it's dangerous in a lake. You can't see the bottom if they were to fall or get swept away. You can't find them once they're under the water.”
Kiel says with school out and summer in full swing, she expects to see thousands of people at the lake on the weekends and she is hopeful people will take advantage of the loaner life jacket stations.
“I think it's just really important to remind people that if you don't have a Coast Guard approved life jacket, there are some that are loaned here in two different places on our lake and they can just borrow them and put them back when they're finished for someone else.”
Tara Janszen is Kiel’s daughter and the president of the Cleburne Chamber of Commerce. She says she’s also thankful for the additional safety measure at the lake.
“The collaboration between Cook Children’s, Cleburne Fire Department, and the Cleburne Parks and Recreation department is something that will benefit our residents and visitors who come to Lake Pat Cleburne,” Janszen said.
Lake Pat Cleburne is also home to holiday celebrations, and more. Tara says the city is happy to have their Independence Day celebration back at the lake this year, and she is hopeful having the life jackets will be an added safety measure for families.
“We have thousands of people that come out to enjoy the lake for the day. We shoot fireworks off the dam that evening,” Janszen said. “We want people to have fun, but first and foremost, we want people to be safe. I think this new opportunity for kids to be able to loan or borrow a life jacket, and for families to utilize this program is going to make our event just even better this year.”
Johnson shares the same feelings. She wants people to get out and have a good time, without any tragedies. Thus far, the stations have been well-received at all six lakes.
“Our community partners and families are excited about having the stations and how easy they are to manage,” Johnson explained. “The feedback from lake-goers has been amazing, and they are using the life jackets, which is the goal.”
Kiel says she enjoys walking out of her front door and seeing neighbors and visitors enjoying the lake, and she is hopeful this summer will conclude with every family making it back home safely.
“I think the life jackets can help save lives,” Kiel said. “Drowning happens so quickly, and it’s such a tragedy for families. I think it could save a lot of children's lives and I believe that’s the goal for Cook Children’s and the City of Cleburne.”
Johnson understands families are excited to get together for the summer, but safety has to be the top priority for everyone to have a good time.
“We know everyone is eager to enjoy the summer, but along with that we know there are a lot of potential distractions,” Kiel expressed. “We want families to remember to have an emergency plan in place, always designate a pool and lake ‘water watcher’ for safety, and to remember to keep a child’s life jacket on until they are safely away from the water’s edge.”
Important to note:
If you live in a community with a lake or pool that could benefit from a loner life jacket station, send an email to Safe.firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about the loaner life jacket program and other safety measures, visit lifeguardyourchild.com