The Bay County Sheriff's Office announced today they have received 42 water related calls and 2 water distress calls for service in the unincorporated areas of Panama City Beach. Currently double red flags are posted for Bay County beaches . Double red flags are a warning beaches are closed to swimmers due to hazardous swimming conditions.
At about ten o'clock this morning, deputies responded to a swimmer in distress call at about the 23011 Front Beach Road area on Panama City Beach . Deputy Tim Justice responded and went into the water to assist a male swimmer that was fighting a rip current. Deputy Justice attempted a rescue and also grew dangerously tired. At this time Sgt. David Higgins entered the water and gave assistance. With both deputies working together they were able to get the exhausted man to shore. He was taken to a local hospital where he remains.
Deputy Tim Justice suffered some adverse affects from the water rescue and was also taken to a local hospital. He has been treated and released.
Entering the water to swim during posted double red flags is a misdemeanor in Bay County and violators can be arrested. Those that enter waters during times of high hazard conditions not only place themselves at risk, but also risk the lives of those that enter the water to rescue them.
Aquatics Director Wil Spivey says it's important to not only understand the warning flags, but also to know the basics of swimming. Drowning is the third leading cause of accidental death in the United States and the second leading cause of accidental death for people between the age of five and forty-four. "The flag system is an excellent tool to help educate folks on the dangers that exist, but flags aren't going to be able to go pull someone out of the water if they don't listen to the warning," says Spivey.
He continues, "Those rip currents, if you don't know what's going on, they'll pull you out. I've seen folks wear themselves down or get swept off their feet in knee deep water."
However, not every part of the beach has a certified lifeguard. So, what should you do if you find yourself caught up in a rip current? Spivey says, "The best thing is to not panic and to swim parallel to the shore. Rip currents are quite narrow most the time so if you just swim a little ways to one side the waves will help push you in rather than trying to fight something that's pushing you out."
Spivey also says it's not always easy to tell if a person is in distress. "Somebody that's a non-swimmer, who steps off a sandbar and gets pulled under water over their head, they may go straight into active drowning which they wont be able to call for help, they wont be able to wave for help, they're just trying to get their next breath," says Spivey.
According to Spivey, you should not attempt to save a drowning person unless you are trained and attached to a floatation device. He says, "The best thing would be if you could extend them a floatation device, a boogie board, surfboard, a float. Anything would be better than you coming in contact with them. I really don't advice someone who's not trained in guarding an open water environment to try and assist in a rescue. A lot of good Samaritans get themselves in trouble trying to be a good Samaritan and help someone and it can become very dangerous."
For more information about Spivey's swimming programs or lifeguard training program, visit their website at http://www.swiminparadise.com/index.shtml .