COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - Community partners like Piedmont Columbus Regional, Columbus Fire, and the Columbus Police Department, want to get the discussion on river safety started early this year before the summer season arrives and, ahead of this year's Riverfest celebration.
"Guardians, parents, grandparents have got to ensure that they're children are safe," said former Columbus mayor Robert Poydasheff.
A coalition of public safety experts, and representatives from local clubs like Kiwanis, hosted a panel discussion Tuesday morning to remind the community that, while they can enjoy activities out on the Chattahoochee River, they need to understand the risks they take if they do not wear proper gear, like a life jacket.
Columbus Fire Chief Ricky Shores recalled the number of times his team has had to respond to recent calls of people falling into the water.
"Within the last five years," Shores said, "we've had about 75, 76 responses to the river, whether it's drowning or an emergency rescue."
Shores and the other panelists said they felt the community should treat life jacket ordinances, which are clearly posted along both sides of the river, the same way they would now treat seat-belt laws.
"You can have a great time on the river," he said, "if you're properly prepared."
As part of the effort to help families prepare, Safe Kids Columbus will host its own education event during Riverfest, which will provide a limited supply of life jackets for kids who participate in the interactive scavenger hunt.
"We will have all sizes for the children to wear," said Cpl. Robert Greene with Columbus Police. "Because one size does not fit all. That's why they need to be properly fitted."
All panelists said the education effort will continue throughout the summer, as more families flock to the river.