KENNEWICK -- Sunny summer days are perfect for cooling off in rivers, lakes or pools, but things can turn tragic if basic safety rules aren't followed.
Life jackets are key to saving lives, say safety advocates and emergency officials. That's why the American Red Cross has planned a Summer Water Safety Event on Saturday in Columbia Park to educate Tri-Citians -- and even give away free life jackets.
"Every year, you keep reading about more and more people drowning because they don't have a life jacket," said Lisa Gallegos, territory representative for the American Red Cross. "It's definitely something that's needed."
With Water Follies a week away and the mercury rising to the mid-90s this weekend, Saturday's water safety event will serve as a good reminder that people can be safe and still have fun.
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The Red Cross has partnered with other community groups and businesses to put on the safety presentation, which Gallegos hopes will become an annual event.
From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., safety advocates will be in Columbia Park by the playground of dreams educating people about the dos and don'ts around the water.
The idea for Saturday's event started with Visiting Angels, a Kennewick in-home senior care organization, which wanted to organize a blood drive with the Red Cross, Gallegos said.
The blood drive runs at the same time as the water safety event. Those wanting to donate blood should call Visiting Angels at 582-7800 to schedule an appointment. Gallegos said the low donation rates have created a critical need for O-negative, A-negative and B-negative blood.
As a way to get more people involved, Gallegos said the Red Cross decided to add the water safety event to the blood drive.
"We just really want to get the message out so we can help some people in both donating blood and water safety," Gallegos said. "It's going to be a save-a-life kind of day."
Ranch & Home has donated 200 life jackets -- 100 child sized and 100 adult sized -- to give away, and the U.S. Coast Guard and Search & Rescue will be on hand to demonstrate the proper way to wear a life jacket.
Kennewick police and firefighters also are participating, Gallegos said. Hotdogs, snacks and drinks will be provided, and Spanish interpreters also will be on hand.
Key Metz, a longtime member of the Water Follies board and boating safety advocate, said he has one simple message when it comes to kids and water.
"Do not put a life jacket on a child in a boat," Metz said. "Put the life jacket on before a child gets on the dock."
It's too easy for a child to trip and fall off the dock, so Metz said children should have on properly fitted life jackets before they get near the water.
"Almost all drownings could totally be eliminated with life jackets," he said.
This year, the Columbia River is high, swift and cold, so Metz said boaters and race fans need to plan accordingly.
Boaters should make sure they know their boat and have all the necessary equipment. They also should remember that alcohol and water activities don't mix, he said.
During race weekend, there will be lots of boats on the river -- and there's plenty of room for everyone -- but common sense, courtesy and paying attention to others on the water will go a long way, Metz said.
"I don't want to discourage people from having fun" Metz said. "I want people to play safe out there and avoid getting hurt."
* Paula Horton: 509-582-1556; firstname.lastname@example.org