Free life jackets available where family drowned at Hagg Lake

GASTON, Ore. - A rack of life jackets stands just a few yards from the water at Hagg Lake, where a family of four drowned on Monday evening.

But the family didn't use the jackets. Emergency responders want this latest tragedy to be a reminder that even experienced swimmers should remember water is dangerous.

The rack for the life jackets was built by Kyle Giesbers for his Eagle Scout project back in 2009 after Jason Sims drowned in the same spot at the Sain Creek picnic area in 2008. The life jackets have been available since 2009 for anyone to borrow for free. There hadn't been a recent drowning at Hagg Lake until Monday night's accident.

"It's just going to strengthen our resolve to make sure that we do more to educate the public about the risks of swimming in lakes, streams, rivers, and so forth, without personal flotation devices," said Storm Smith, spokesman for the Hillsboro Fire Department.

The life jackets are provided through a program called Washington County Safe Kids headed by Smith and the Hillsboro Fire Department. It's made up of 20 agencies that also partner together to provide water safety education.

Grants and donations pay for Safe Kids to purchase the jackets.

Emergency responders regularly check to make sure enough jackets are available to the public. If there aren't, the jackets are re-stocked.

Giesbers, who was 17 when he built the life-jacket stand as a Boy Scout, is now 22. He, like Smith, is heartbroken about this week's drownings.

He said he's glad his work still stands at the lake.

"It's always so affirming when something like this lasts. You never want to see these sorts of things go to ruin," Giesbers said.

The jackets will be available to the public to borrow for day use for the next few weeks until the weather cools off for good.

Sizes ranging from adult to infant are available at the Sain Creek Picnic Area and at Boat Ramp C near the restrooms.