Now nobody heading out on the San Joaquin River in Lathrop has an excuse for not wearing a lifejacket.
Earlier this year, the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District made good on plans to install life jacket stations at the city’s two main boat access points to the San Joaquin River and is currently in discussions with the developer near a third potential location that has become an unofficial beach where people swim in the potentially dangerous currents.
Fire Chief Gene Neely said he got the idea seeing news reports from cities like Sacramento that had placed the self-serve stations in for people who were going out on the American River as a way to thwart tragedy. In Lathrop’s case, a donation of 300 lifejackets from San Joaquin County Public Health Services allowed for the project — that he talked about wanting to implement last year — to move forward.
“Once we had the lifejackets it was just a matter of placing the billboard that outlines what the program is about and how it works,” Neely said of the stations that are installed at the Dos Reis and Mossdale boat launch facilities. “Life jackets save lives and sometimes people go out and they don’t have enough for the people on the boat and this solves that problem — they can just take it when they arrive and put it back when they’re leaving.”
Because of the unpredictable nature of the rivers that flow through the Northern San Joaquin Valley — submerged obstacles are common, and currents can be deceivingly strong even during low periods — officials have long advocated for the use of life jackets for people who are either boating or planning on entering the water.
Earlier this year, tragedy struck when a young girl disappeared into the water near Knight’s Ferry on the Stanislaus River — upstream from the confluence between the Stanislaus and San Joaquin Rivers. The same record snowpack that had made swollen the river at that time is still melting into the reservoirs below it, and that cold water is still being released out into what will eventually be the San Joaquin River as it flows out into the San Francisco Bay.
According to Neely, it’s stories like those and others — including drownings his district has responded to — that prompted the push to outfitting publicly accessible lifejacket stations, and so far, the public has been responding to them.
“You hear those stories and you think that maybe if they had a lifejacket on it would have ended differently,” Neely said. “That’s what this is trying to prevent.”
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