HEBERY CITY, Utah — Memorial Day weekend signals the unofficial start to summer as well as boating and swimming season.
Thursday, local first responders and Intermountain Healthcare trauma leaders teamed up to try and raise awareness for water safety.
Out at Deer Creek Island Resort, free life jackets were handed out to kids and they talked about safety protocols at Deer Creek Reservoir, which tends to be a highly recreated during the summer months.
The issue of water safety hits home for Leno Franco.
"He attracted people and was willing to help people at all times," said Franco.
The Heber City resident lost his 17-year-old son, Kalem, to a drowning at Deer Creek Reservoir on June 29, 2011.
"When Kalem cramped up, started sliding off the water and then slipped underneath the water," said Franco. "I just felt in my heart like he's probably drowned."
Kalem's body would be recovered about 90 minutes later.
"The water temperature down here is still really cold, you can't survive very long in this water without a life jacket," said Kam Kohler, Wasatch County Search & Rescue Commander.
According to data from the Utah Department of Health, Utah saw 45 unintentional drownings in 2020, the highest in a decade.
"I know a lot of people grow up around water swimming and believe that they're strong swimmers and, and that may be true, but there are a lot of things that are not in your control," said Mardee Jones, a Trauma Coordinator with Intermountain Heber Valley Hospital.
Over the last five years, an average of 33 Utahns have died from drowning.
"I can go out and it can be just beautiful and within 30 minutes things can change drastically," said Kohler.
As for Franco, he says if his son had been wearing a life jacket on that June day nearly 11 years ago, he believes he would still be alive.
"If our message can help anybody that would save one life or an injury to somebody by taking precautions for water safety, then this is all worth it," said Franco.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that an average of 3,960 adults and children unintentionally drown each year.