New rule lets DNR ticket swimmers who ignore red flags

Michigan

SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — A new statewide ordinance could make Michiganders think twice before taking a dip in dangerous waters.

Tim Forker, a firefighter and paramedic for South Haven Area Emergency Services, is among the first responders who arrive whenever a water emergency is called in on Lake Michigan. When red flags are flying, he said, the job is even more dangerous.

“We control what we can,” he said. “However, with the waves, we just have to work with that. So, communications may get messed up because we can’t hear that well… the waves crashing on the radios, things of that sort.”

Ron Olson with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources says red flags used to be an advisory in extreme weather and rip current situations. But to keep the public and those who protect and serve them all safe, an ordinance will soon ban swimming on state park and recreational lands whenever the red flags fly.

“We believe that this is a tool that we can use,” Olson said. “Most people do use good judgment. But in the case of that, what we don’t want is to have somebody think they can withstand heavy waves and things and then tumble over and then put rescue workers in harm’s way.”

Violators could face a civil infraction, which may lead to a maximum $500 fine. Enforcement of the ordinance will start in May.

The order makes an exception for surfers. It also states that surfers who do enter the water do so at their own risk.

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