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Lifejackets available at Fred Henne
GNWT installs lending station at Fred Henne Beach

Cody Punter
Northern News Services
Published Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The GNWT has delivered on its promise to have lifejackets at Fred Henne Beach by the August long weekend.

NNSL photo/graphic

Amanda Lalonde and her husband Michael, along with their children Anna, 7, left, Laura, 3, Nathan, 2, pose for a photo in front of the lifejacket lending kiosk at Fred Henne Beach on the holiday Monday. The kiosk was set up by the GNWT with the help of the Lifesaving Society in order to improve safety at the beach. - Cody Punter/NNSL photo

The Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment said it was going to install the lifejacket lending station at Fred Henne Beach after Barbara Costache, chief administrative officer with the Lifesaving Society of Alberta and NWT, made the suggestion to the government in July, when she was in Yellowknife to complete an safety audit of the beach.

As of Friday afternoon, there were approximately 30 lifejackets available to the public, free of charge.

Parents who decided to spend their holiday Monday taking their children to the beach were delighted by the new program.

"It's a great idea," said parent Mike Soloy who was camping at the park with his family and two children, aged five and two.

Soloy says both his children have their own lifejackets, but that it was a good idea to offer them to the public for free.

"Some people don't have lifejackets. This way they're out there and its easy access," said Soloy.

Although there were relatively few people on the beach on Monday morning. Soloy said that on Sunday the beach was busy, and there were few lifejackets left on the rack during the day.

"Most of them were being used," said Soloy.

The lifejacket kiosk is the first of its kind in Yellowknife. The idea for the lending program is modelled after several kiosks in provincial parks across Alberta, which have been successful in promoting water safety and awareness.

As with the kiosks in Alberta, the lifejackets are available on a first-come-first-serve basis. The kiosks are unsupervised and the program operates on an honour system, which assumes that beach-goers will return the lifejackets at the end of every day.

Costache said kiosks in Alberta lose between 15 and 25 per cent of their inventory over the course of the summer.

Soloy said most of the lifejackets were being used on Sunday and it was good to see the kiosk was fully replenished by the Monday morning.

"So far it looks like everyone is putting them back," he said.

Mike Lalonde was also at the beach with his wife and three children on Monday morning.

Lalonde had come equipped with lifejackets for two of his three children but did not have one for his eldest seven-year-old daughter. Although she is a strong swimmer, Anna, 7, wears a lifejacket when she swims in deeper water as a precaution.

"With three kids it's better to be safe than sorry. There's only two of us and three of them, so it kind of makes sense," said Lalonde. "Why not take advantage of it?"

Tara Kramers, who was at the beach with a group of mothers as well as her five year old daughter, takes the same precautions with her five-year-old daughter.

"She's a good swimmer, but if she goes out there and panics or gets stuck in one of those holes you just never know," said Kramers.

Kramers said she recently bought a new lifejacket for her daughter but had she known about the kiosk beforehand she would have taken advantage of the program.

For the time being, the lifejackets at Fred Henne beach are strung up on coat hangers, nailed to an existing wooden gazebo in the middle of the beach, which was outfitted with large white signs promoting the program.

Trevor Kasteel, a city contractor, has partnered with the GNWT to build a new structure, which will be made of steel and can be locked up at night. However, Kasteel said the new structure will not be built until next season.

The Lifesaving Society's audit of the beach, which will include a list of recommendations to further improve safety, is expected by the end of August.

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