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Water rescue numbers “out of control” in PCB when red flags are flying

Published: Jun. 23, 2021 at 10:39 PM CDT
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PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Double red flags have been flying all week and Wednesday was no different.

“A while ago the lifeguard came and told me it was double red flags, so I got my kids and we got out of the water,” Visitor Kenneth Strong said.

Double red flags flying means the gulf is considered unsafe to swim in and also closed.

“We have a lot of folks that are entering the water and some that don’t swim very well and some that can’t swim at all. That’s when most folks get into trouble,” Deputy Fire Chief Justin Busch said.

Beach safety officials tell us this year, they’ve seen an “out of control” number of water rescues compared to years past. Busch said they receive about 20 water rescue calls a day.

“When we get dispatched for those rescues, it’s not just one person. It’s usually two, as many as five,” Fire Chief Ray Morgan said.

Morgan said three drownings have taken place so far this year.

They want you to know, violating the double red flag ordinance comes with a hefty price. Officials want to emphasize that while double red flags are flying, you must stay out of the water or you will receive a $500 fine.

Code Enforcement Manager James Tindle said they’ve written 53 citations so far this month, 33 Tuesday alone. That’s more violations in one day than ever before.

“I do believe the fines are working, it’s just a matter of people educating people,” said Tindle.

Beach Safety Director Wil Spivey said the lifeguards educate people on rip currents and the beach flag system.

“Which is just one of our tools to help get the word out about what the current conditions are,” said Spivey.

But some vacationers would say otherwise.

“Actually I did not know that until yesterday,” Visitor Erica Strong said.

“I had no idea what double red flags meant,” Visitor Gabrielle Smith said.

Officials said they’re working countless hours to educate people and are now asking the public to do their part to stay safe.

If you get pulled into a rip current, swim sideways to get out of the funnel and the waves will help push you in. Other safety tips officials offer are to wear a life jacket if you aren’t a strong swimmer, swim near lifeguards on guarded beaches like the city and county piers, and of course, pay attention to the beach flags.

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