BRYAN, TX — Last week a 23-year-old man drowned in Lake Waco.
Around the same time, a couple in their mid-twenties went missing under the waves of Lake Conroe.
These types of emergencies have unfolded in the Brazos Valley area over the years as well, with deaths at locations such as Lake Bryan and Lake Somerville.
Bryan deputy fire marshal Gerald Burnett has been at the scene of several drowning calls."When you go down, it might be in the middle of exhaling or inhaling," he said. "There might not be a gasp at all. In fact, what we find is just that- there's no indication until the person is underwater. Obviously, just because I'm underwater, that doesn't mean I’m in trouble, so people might not recognize it right away.”
The Bryan Fire Department operates several swift water rescue boats, which are used to rescue people struggling in floodwaters, rivers, and lakes.
Departmental records for 2019 show that these boats responded to as many as 12 emergencies per boat, just in that one year.
“We don’t do a water rescue lightly," Burnett said. "It’s not something that is a single person response.”Burnett stressed that lakes have steep drop-offs in elevation that often surprise swimmers. And a drowning, he said, is often silent, and goes unnoticed by other swimmers.Experts such as Burnett advise that it’s important to wear a life jacket at the lake, and to never swim or boat alone.
Texas Game Warden David Thorne, who patrols Brazos County, noted that life jackets are legally required on any type of vessel, no matter how small.
“Any paddle craft - [people] have to have a life jacket for everybody aboard," Thorne said. "They don’t have to have it on unless they’re under age, 13 or below, but everyone has to have one on a paddle craft, kayak, or paddle board.”
Both Burnett and Thorne said affordable and safe life jackets can be found at common retailers and sporting goods stores.
Thorne urged that everyone who purchases a life jacket ensures the product fits the person intended.