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Kids get vests, lessons in water safety from Hall Fire Department
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Kevin Raddatz, 3, is outfitted with a life jacket with help from the Hall County fire and sheriff’s office officials. - photo by EMMA WITMAN

At age 3, Kevin Raddatz is a little guy with chubby cheeks. To his dismay, the blue life jacket he most desired didn’t come in his size.

It was too big, Lt. Beverly Walker explained as she outfitted him with a vest courtesy of the Hall County Fire Services.

“But I am big!” he insisted, to the laughter of his parents and Walker.

Kevin was one of 20 kids to receive a vest Saturday at the Van Pugh Day Use park at Lake Lanier in Hall County . Fire and other emergency officials were on hand to give out safety equipment and information, including representatives from the local chapter of the American Red Cross, who distributed flotation devices for errant boat keys.

Walker stressed that the only proper flotation for humans are U.S. Coast Guard approved life vests.

“Parents need to check that it has the Coast Guard approval, because anything other — floaties, beach balls — those are swimming aids, not life-saving devices,” she said.

And like Kevin and the other kids she helped size, fit is more important than look.

“Of course the vest shouldn’t be too tight; it shouldn’t squeeze them and be uncomfortable. But it’s a snug fit,” she said. “Our test is to have the kids put their arms up and see if the jacket can slip off.”

The day of fun and safety was in coordination with the national “Ready, Set, Wear It” event promoting the use of life jackets.

Fire Chief David Kimbrell said that the event — albeit unintentionally — proved to be a good way to reach Hispanics in the community. A Hispanic family had rented the lakeside pavilion for the day.

“We have often seen that demographic in drownings,” he said. “Hopefully this saves some kids’ lives.”

While it was a little chilly to break in their new vests, kids were also endeared to the event by the fancy toys the department brought along. Yosef Godinez, 7, with his family from Barrow County, posed for pictures in the fire engine from Station 8 in Flowery Branch.

The event was cut short by rain around 12:15 p.m. Walker said the department hopes to give out more jackets around mid-summer.

Boaters must be especially tuned into safety this summer with many best practices going from mere recommendations to written law.

More portions of Kile’s Law will go into effect. One provision, named after a child killed in a 2012 boating collision, mandates that vessel operators born on or after Jan. 1, 1998, take and pass a boater safety education class. Every year, more people will be included in the requirement until, in theory, all of Georgia’s boat operators, young and old, have the certification.

The Department of Natural Resources provides a list of organizations, online and in-person, that administer an approved course per the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators standards.

The DNR will also continue to enforce a law enacted last year that lowered the blood-alcohol limit for boaters from 0.08 from 0.10, and a life jacket provision that increased the required age to wear a vest from 10 and under to 13 and under.

Boater education requirements go into effect July 1.