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Peoria fire captain shares lake safety tips after 4 drownings at Lake Pleasant

Fire crews are highlighting safety after a fourth person died at Lake Pleasant during the past four weeks.
Published: May. 16, 2022 at 5:17 PM MST
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PEORIA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - Peoria Fire and Medical says they have already been dispatched to more drownings at Lake Pleasant this year than all of last year after a fourth person drowned yesterday.

“The point is that we’re only in May, and we have already exceeded the number that we had last season, and so it’s going to be a busy, busy year,” said Captain Mark Barbee with the Peoria Fire and Medical Department.

Barbee said they consider Memorial Day the start of the busy season at the lake. During busier weekends or days at the lake, patrols are ramped up. “We would patrol the water depending on volume. If it’s a busy weekend, like 4th of July weekend, you will see a boat in the water while fireworks are going over the water,” Barbee explained.

On April 24th, a 20-year-old man tried to swim to shore and then back to a boat when he went underwater and never resurfaced. The following Sunday, May 1st, a man in his early 20s was swimming in the lake and went underwater and never came back up. On May 8th, an 83-year-old woman was thrown from a boat and was seriously hurt. Other boaters pulled her out of the water, but she eventually died at the hospital. On May 15th, an 18-year-old drowned while trying to swim in the lake.

The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) says none of the drowning victims wore life jackets. “It’s unfortunate, and we wish we had the answer of how we could stop this right now and fix it, but we just need everyone to know that while you’re onshore or you’re in a watercraft, you should have a flotation device on,” said Barbee. “Some people would tell you, it’s available to me on the boat, and that’s acceptable. To us, we would rather you be wearing that PFD, personal flotation device, all the time.”

According to the Arizona Game and Fish Department website, there have to be enough PFDs for each person on a boat.

Barbee says to prevent tragedies like these, all they can do is spread awareness and educate the public. “Even though there are laws, what could you do? What could the person on the water do to be more safe? That’s what we’re here for,” Barbee said. “The fire department can’t ticket you. We can make suggestions to you and suggest that you have those. Are you okay? Have you seen anyone in distress? It’s better to ask than obviously have to respond to them.”

In addition to PFDs, Peoria Fire also says to make sure you have a charged cell phone and a map of the lake. “All these different areas on the water have names. So if you had that with you, especially if it was your first time at the lake or you’re inexperienced, and you had to call 911, you can give us better directions, and we can get to you more quickly,” Barbee said.

MCSO did not respond to inquiries regarding how often they patrol the lake and if they ever issue citations regarding the lack of PFDs on watercrafts.