Friday, August 16, 2019

Little Sebago Lake Association promotes water safety in significant but fun and hands-on ways

Roger LeBlanc on the Water Safety Patrol Boat
By Lorraine Glowczak

According to the American Red Cross, water competency is a way of improving water safety for yourself and those around you through avoiding common dangers, developing fundamental water safety skills to make you safer in and around the water, and knowing how to prevent and respond to emergencies. The Red Cross also points out that by working together to improve water competency – which includes swimming skills, water smarts and helping others – water activities can be safer… and just as much fun. Working together to improve water safety is one of the missions of the Little Sebago Lake Association (LSLA) boards, whose motto is “Safety is no accident”.

In fact, the association has created a Water Safety Program directed by Sharon Lamontagne, a long time LSLA board member. It also includes a Patrol boat, captained and managed by Roger LeBlanc. The patrol boat motors around the 1,900 acres of crystal-clear water every Friday, Saturday and Sunday offering a friendly reminder to both residents and visitors alike, the importance of water safety.

The patrol team, which consists LeBlanc, John Bernier, Kate Martin and Cedric Harkin, cruises the lake educating and encouraging swimmers, kayakers, canoers, jet skiers, and motor boaters to adhere to safety guidelines. “We are about having fun and enjoying the water with the intent of avoiding accidents….and that we care about your safety as well as the safety of others,” stated Lamontagne, who leads  the lake association Water Safety program.
Little Sebago Lake, as most lakes in Maine, is becoming a popular spot for water activities. “Over the years it has become more and more crowded and congested,” Lamontagne said. “Many people, especially new members or renters who are not seasoned boat drivers and not are aware of the boating laws with the State of Maine - we wanted to serve as a gentle reminder to know the laws and to stay safe.”

The association’s safety patrol program began 15 years ago, by “accident”, when a member donated an old pontoon boat. “I wondered what we should do with the boat but realized we could fix it up and outfit it to serve in the manner of promoting water safety education and awareness,” Lamontagne stated.

It was from that point the LSLA developed the program. “We fixed up the boat, added signage on the side and began by volunteers patrolling on Saturdays and Sundays – increasing our presence as time went on. People loved to see the patrol boat on the lake and would slow down or show us they had their life jackets. Boaters and kayakers would even stop to talk to us.

According to the 2019 LSLA’s yearly newsletter, accidents occur on Maine lakes every year. In that newsletter, it stated that the State of Maine had a total of four boat crashes that involved more than $2,000 in damages and 10 personal injury crashes that involved the Warden Service. Little Sebago Lake was one of the lakes to be included in those statistics.

Over the years, as the lake became more popular and therefore  more crowded, the committee realized it needed actual law enforcement as well as what the patrol boat was doing to educate. For a number of years, LSLA hired the Cumberland County Sherriff’s Department to patrol the lake throughout the summer . It grew into a very successful program – but eventually the sheriff’s department became short staffed. Presently, LSLA contracts with the Maine State Warden Service to patrol the lake most weekend days.

“We are about having fun on the water – not about chastising people who may not know the  boating laws of the State of Maine,” reminded Lamontagne. “We reward people for good behavior. If they have the required number of life jackets or are driving with no wake near shoreline – we will give out gift certificates for pizza, Subway sandwiches and ice cream. This is especially good for children to see that observing the law has positive consequences. In addition, it educates them regarding water safety in a fun and engaging way.”

“Captain” LeBlanc stated that meeting people is what he loves best about his role on the Water Safety Pontoon. “I have met so many people on the lake, it’s been such a fun experience, “LeBlanc began. “I enjoy talking with them and sharing some safety techniques while I’m at it. If people don’t have life jackets, we have some available on the pontoon and will loan them what they need while in the water. We also carry gas cans on the boat for those who are running low on fuel. What’s so amazing to me is that people always return the life jackets and the gas cans, putting them right back in the Safety Patrol boat as it sits at the dock.”

In his fifth season as Captain, one may find LeBlanc available for children and their families for a tour around the lake. “While we are on the tour, we talk about various subjects such as the proper fitting of a life jacket and how to throw a safety ring into the water to help someone in need,” he stated. “The kids love it, but just as important – the parents learn a little bit more about water safety, too.”
Another service the Water Safety Patrol has added this year is, upon request, the Patrol boat will go to Association members’ homes to educate and inform all family members the importance of water safety awareness.

Additionally, the LSLA pays for members to take water safety classes provided by the State of Maine. “We sponsor a class every year at the Raymond Public Safety Building,” stated Lamontagne.
The Water Safety Program includes a working relationship with the Cumberland County Dispatch service center and have created six entry points onto the lake so medical personnel can easily respond to any emergency. As LeBlanc pointed out, the Water Safety Patrol Pontoon is not a first responder.

Perhaps what is just as important to the water safety component of the LSLA members and residents of the lake, is that of unity and kinship. “The Safety Patrol Program has even increased our membership and has provided a sense of community among us,” stated Lamontagne.

“We are just good Samaritans who are having fun while educating the public on ways to have fun, and yet safe experience, on the lake.”

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