For most, Memorial Day means summer is here.
While the annual holiday doesn’t officially begin the season, many view the day as summer’s kickoff, a celebration of children having finished their school year and the first warm holiday parents have time off from work.
As Forsyth County residents fire up their grills, head down to the lake and climb into their boats, law enforcement officials are urging safety on land and in the water.
According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, it takes an adult an average of 60 seconds to drown and a child 20 seconds. Water currents, temperatures and wind can change unexpectedly, as well, prompting the Corps to recommend even experiences swimmers to wear life jackets and stay within designated swimming boundaries.
“Swimming in natural waters is not the same as swimming in a pool,” a Corps news release said. “Even strong swimmers can get into trouble and be gone within seconds. Most people drowned within 10 feet of safety and many shorelines at USACE lake and river projects have drop offs, and you can be in water over your head instantly or pulled under by the current.”
Even if temperature reach summertime levels this weekend, Lake Lanier and other bodies of water will still be cold, which may be shocking to un-expecting swimmers who may unintentionally gasp from shock underwater.
Studio Forsyth: Officials Talk Boat Safety for Memorial Day Weekend
Over the last five years, Georgia has averaged 16 boating fatalities per year, according to Lt. Col. Jeff Weaver, assistant director of Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Law Enforcement Division. Already this year, Lanier has seen four fatalities, though not all were from boats.
“There are those who make a lot of excuses for not wearing a life jacket,” Weaver said. “Being a good swimmer is well and good, but when you’re in the water for an extended period of time, fatigue sets in and being a good swimmer isn’t going to do any good if you don’t have a lifejacket on.”
According to a recent poll by the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association “Barbecue Lifestyle, Usage & Attitude,” 75 percent of adults in the U.S. own a grill, 62 percent of which are gas-fueled. Forsyth County Fire Department Division Chief Jason Shivers said while popular, grilling can also be dangerous if not done properly.
“Always grill outdoors and on open decks or improved surfaces,” he said. “Never grill in a garage and certainly don’t light a grill indoors. You’ve got to have good ventilation and an open space, and keep children away from the grill and keep the grill away from combustible areas.”
So far this year, 554 people have died on the roads in Georgia, largely due to drinking and driving and not wearing seat belts, according to Governor’s Office of Highway Safety Director Harris Blackwood.
“Of that 554 people killed, nearly 60 percent of them were not wearing seat belts,” he said. “I don’t know what else to say — that’s just crazy. That seat belt is your first line of safety.”
“One thing that will not be tolerated this weekend or any weekend, whether you’re in a vehicle or on a boat, is drinking and driving or being under the influence as a boater,” said Col. Mark McDonough, Georgia Department of Public Safety commissioner. “Whether it’s the sheriff’s department or the men that work Lake Lanier, there will be a zero tolerance effort for drinking and driving or boating under the influence, period.”
Though the Fourth of July is most well-known for fireworks, in recent weeks, grocery and general stores in Forsyth County have been stocking up on them.
“Don’t ever shoot them at other people or toward homes, and always shoot them in a safe direction,” Shivers said. “If one is a dud, leave it alone and come back to it later, then douse it in water before disposing of it.
“Just a reminder: we’re now in the burn ban season, so no outdoor burning for the purpose of bonfires or disposing of debris is allowed now.”
Georgia law states fireworks may only be lit between 10 a.m. and midnight, and those purchasing fireworks must be 18 years of age or older. Fireworks cannot be used within 100 yards of a nuclear power plant or gasoline station.