Firefighters nurturing a young program that loans out life jackets for people to use while they are swimming in Lake Grapevine are making a simple request.
If you borrow a life vest, bring it back to the stand where you got it from.
This is the program’s second summer in operation, says John Sherwood, Grapevine Fire Department assistant chief.
There was a 30 percent loss rate during the first year the program was in operation, Sherwood said. But this year, the program is experiencing a 50 percent loss, which is unsustainable, Sherwood said.
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“We brought 60 replacement jackets last week and this week all of those are gone,” Sherwood said.
The life jackets are blue and clearly marked to show they are the property of the city of Grapevine, Sherwood said. Signs asking people to bring the jackets back if they borrow one have been displayed in English and in Spanish, Sherwood said.
The vests are positioned on metal stands in five areas of the lake, where there are managed boat ramps at Meadowmere, Lakeview, Oak Grove, Sand Bass, and Rockledge locations this year.
There are typically about 25 or 26 jackets to a stand in various adult and children’s sizes that are put out on Memorial Day and retrieved on Labor Day, Sherwood said. This year, it took about $5,000 to start the program, Sherwood said.
This program, supported entirely by donated funds, will be evaluated at the end of the season, he said. At that time a determination will be made as to whether the program can be funded from the city budget, whether it can be supported by donations or whether it will have to be scrapped.
“At some point if the money ran out we’d have to look at whether we could continue the program,” Sherwood said.
At least once a day the lake areas are examined and people are finding the life jackets left on the ground.
It’s not like all the people are stealing them or taking them home, Sherwood said. Some people are just neglecting to bring the jackets back to the stands, Sherwood said.
No one will come after people for taking the vests home. Sherwood said the Fire Department does not want to strong-arm people, firefighters just want people to make it home safely from any of the recreational activities in which they participate.
“We’ve already had six drownings this year,” Sherwood said.
Also, those who do not return the vests could possibly deprive another swimmer of the use of that vest, putting that swimmer at risk for drowning.
The program was started last year by Grapevine Fire Chief Darrell Brown after James McKenzie, a member of the Grapevine Fire Department Dive Team who drowned in 2016 without a life jacket on while he was swimming during off-duty hours, Sherwood said.
“He was a strong swimmer,” Sherwood said. “We figured if it could happen to him it could happen to anyone.”