Red Flag Conditions More Dangerous for Rescuers

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Debbi Butler and her girlfriends are on vacation celebrating several birthdays; they are still having fun even though they cannot get in the water. And they do not want to after what they witnessed Monday.

"He was out for a while and we saw the lifeguard start whistling and he couldn't come in,” said Butler. “He got stuck in the rip tides." They say the swimmer was able to get back to shore with the help of the life guard.

For the past six days South Walton has been under red or double red flags.

"Rough surf with a lot of rip currents present,” said Gary Wise, the South Walton Fire Department beach safety director. “We have the lifeguards managing the swim zones."

The lifeguards have helped close to a dozen distressed swimmers on their 26 miles of beaches, but even more distressed calls have been made along Bay County beaches.

Dozens of swimmer in distress calls have been made, but officials say they are not just putting themselves at risk, they are putting rescue workers and civilians at risk as well.

"The majority of calls are not the person in distress but the person who goes out to rescue them," said Panama City Beach Chief Drew Whitman.

22 people have been pulled out of the water in Panama City Beach since Friday, three Monday.

The Bay County Sheriff's Office received 42 water related calls for the unincorporated areas of the beach.

As a parent of a fire rescue worker, Mike Thomas wants people to respect the warnings that are given. "There are people's families that are going out there to help and it puts them in danger,” said Thomas. “No matter which side you're on it's a bad situation."

And there are many visitors, like Debbi, who agree. "It frustrates me because the lifeguards are here to help and they're putting the lifeguards at risk when they don't pay attention," said Butler.

Swimming during posted double red flags is a misdemeanor in Bay County and violators can be arrested.