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To: Honorable Miro Weinberger, Mayor

From: Steven A. Locke, Fire Chief

Date: September 22, 2017

RE: Oakledge After Action Report

One of the attractions that makes the City of Burlington such a desirable place to live in
and to visit is Lake Champlain. The lake provides our residents and visitors with many
recreational opportunities, but also creates a life safety risk that our public safety
personnel, including lifeguards, must prepare for each season. Most days from early
spring through late fall there are numerous boaters, swimmers and general water
enthusiasts on and around the lake. During peak summer events, that number increases
significantly, and can present a challenge to City departments.

On July 10, 2017, Burlington resident and Burlington High School student Christian
Kibabu drowned at Oakledge Park. He and a group of friends were attempting to swim
out the one of the oil bollards near Oakledge Beach. This swim is made safely by many
individuals every year, but in this case, it appears Christian became fatigued while
swimming, and in spite of the best efforts of his friends and witnesses in the water and on
the shore, he drowned.

It is not the intention of this document to investigate Christians death, but rather to look
at the Citys use of lifeguards, assess the waterfront risks and response capabilities, and to
review the history of the bollards

Lifeguards
For the purpose of this report, the Citys Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Department
(DPRW) was asked to respond to a series of questions in regards to lifeguards and the
protection they provide. These questions and answers are summarized below.

Can we compare Burlingtons use of lifeguards to national standards?


The Citys lifeguard operations adhere to national guidelines and follow national
recommendations. DPRW follows the guidelines provided by the American Red Cross,
specific to certifications for waterfront lifeguards. In addition, the Department also
follows applicable guidelines stipulated by United States Lifesaving Association.

Do we know the number of swimmers at different beaches?


DPRW took the opportunity over the month of August 2017 to track the estimated daily
beach attendance numbers at each of the City beaches. Crowd sizes do vary, dependent
on day of the week and weather. Below is a snapshot of average daily and peak visits to
our beaches on non-rainy or closed days.

Beach Site Average Peak


North Beach 1500 3500
Leddy Beach 150 350
Blanchard 120 285
Cove Beach 45 100

Are the City lifeguards in the right beach location, at the right time?
According to the attendance numbers, North Beach is the logical site to place lifeguards,
and it is the one location DPRW currently staffs with lifeguards. As for specific tower
locations at North Beach, current lifeguards and towers are situated appropriately
according to the designated swim zone and allow for a quick response to the area of
responsibility.

Are there opportunities for change?


There is room for an expansion of lifeguard staffing at North Beach, as the entire beach is
not guarded, only the specified area within the marked buoy section. As this is the most
widely populated beach, focusing services at North Beach allows the City to provide the
best direct service to the largest amount of daily customers.

DPRW has offered a proposal for the expansion of lifeguard services at North Beach.
Currently, DPRW has four lifeguard stations at North Beach, but with the acquisition of
Texaco Beach to the south end, North Beach has increased in size. It would be the
DPRWs proposal to place an additional four towers so that the entirety of North Beach is
covered by lifeguard services before DPRW looks at adding lifeguards to other beach
locations. This would be done to prioritize ensuring a safe swimming area at the busiest
beach in the City.

What are the impact/costs for this lifeguard change?


The financial impact of increasing lifeguard services to all of North Beach for the first
year would be approximately $87,000; this includes start-up equipment and labor. Future
seasons would need approximately $60,000 for labor and small equipment replacement.

Water Related Risks


In an effort to define water related risks arising from Burlingtons proximity to Lake
Champlain and the Winooski River, a review of both water responses by the Burlington
Fire Department as well as by the Coast Guard was conducted. This is somewhat
challenging, as the data in the Fire Departments records management system is limited.

Since 2004, the Fire Department has responded to 57 responses for water related
emergencies in either Lake Champlain or the Winooski River. These include 16 incidents
where persons in distress were rescued and five incidents that resulted in fatalities. While
the numbers equate to less than five events per year, the stories related by staff note that
lives have been saved by the actions of firefighters improvising by using whatever means
available to retrieve a victim.

A review of Coast Guard responses from 2010 2015 compared to information in the
Fire Departments records management system indicate an additional thirteen incidents
the Department would have responded to had a water rescue capability been available.
These incidents included a report of a fire on a vessel, individuals in the water in distress,
capsized kayaks, medical emergencies and a vessel into the break wall.

Water Related Response Capabilities


The Burlington Fire Department has limited capabilities to respond to water related
emergencies in either Lake Champlain or the Winooski River. It should be noted that
these emergencies can range from a swimmer in distress, an overturned boat or kayak,
and suicidal subjects to simply a medical emergency either in the harbor or out on the
broad lake. The Fire Department does not have any capability to respond to a fire on a
vessel beyond the suppression capabilities used for structural responses.

The Fire Departments water rescue capabilities are outlined in three operational
guidelines. These cover ice/cold water rescue, a medical event on the lake, and
emergencies in the Winooski River.

In the case of cold water or ice rescue, the Fire Department has several rescue suits that
allow firefighters to access individuals in peril. In cold water (no ice), the rescue team
swims to the victim while being tethered at shore. The distance from shore to the victim
cannot exceed 600 due to current capabilities. When the event occurs on the ice, such as
someone falling though, these same suits are utilized; however, an anchor can be placed
on solid ice to extend the distance from shore.

When a medical emergency occurs on the lake, the Coast Guard has the discretion to
request the services of the Fire Department. When this occurs, firefighters will board the
Coast Guard vessel and travel out to meet the person in distress. The other scenario is that
the Fire Department waits for the Coast Guard or other vessel to bring the patient to shore
to begin treatment.

The final type of water event are those that occur in the Winooski River. The Fire
Department is not equipped or trained to deal with emergencies in moving water and
relies heavily on outside agencies such as Colchester Technical Rescue. While the Fire
Department does have several personal floatation devices and throw bags, these are
shore-based activities that require the victim to have the strength to catch and hold a rope
while being pulled to safety.

In order to mitigate these emergencies, the Fire Department relies heavily on mutual aid
agencies and the Coast Guard. While we are extremely fortunate to have a Coast Guard
station right here in our harbor, it should be noted that the Coast Guard has responsibility
for the entire lake, and at times is not available in a timely manner for an emergency in
the City. The Coast Guard has developed a relationship with the local area departments
that operate marine vessels that include Shelburne Fire, Mallets Bay Fire, Colchester
Police and Colchester Technical Rescue. Each of these agencies have participated in
water responses in the City.

The Fire Department has begun conversations with the Parks, Recreation and Waterfront
Department as to the availability of the Harbormasters boat as a shared resource. While
this vessel is not designed for either rescue or suppression, there may be ways that future
planning of purchases could result in a vessel with more than one mission.

History of the Oil Bollards


For the purpose of this review, the Citys Community and Economic Development Office
(CEDO) gathered information on the structures known as oil bollards or dolphins. The
Burlington Harbor use to contain eight early to mid-twentieth century oil
dolphins/bollards used to pump petroleum products from barges to the storage tanks on
land. Two of those bollards remain near the shore of Oakledge Park. Although the
Oakledge Park land was deeded to the City in the late 1980s, at that time Standard Oil
reserved the right to operate these dolphins in the future. The bollards are therefore not
owned by the City of Burlington.

In the early 2000s as part of a multi-year, comprehensive waterfront cleanup and


revitalization strategy, the City initiated a project to remove three of the bollards near
Burlington Bay. This project, lead by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, used the Lake
Champlain Maritime Museum to perform an archeological survey to determine which
bollards would be removed and which should be retained for either historical or
recreational significance. The final report was completed in 2008.

The report identified that three of the bollards were potential navigational hazards and
had no historical or recreational significance. The other five bollards, including the two
near Oakledge Park, were identified as having recreational significance due to their use
by beginner SCUBA divers. These bollards were also identified as posing no navigational
or other safety hazards to the public. According to the 2008 Maritime Museum report,
The Oakledge Dolphins and the associated NRHP eligible barge (VT-CH-811) are used
as an open water SCUBA training site by Waterfront Diving of Burlington, Vermont and
frequently used by customers of Victory Watersports in Colchester, Vermont. In the
opinion of local dive instructors the Oakledge dolphins and barge are the most heavily
dived site in all of Lake Champlain. The sites can be accessed by shore via Oakledge
Park (with its associated bathrooms and pavilion) and present a shallow dive site with a
sandy bottom. The area around the Oakledge Dolphins is protected from a south wind by
Red Rocks to the south, making it a calm water dive site for much of the summer season
when south winds predominate. In short, the Oakledge Dolphins are an extremely
important recreational resource, and careful consideration should be given the sites
recreational value prior to their proposed removal.

The City worked with the federal legislative delegation from 2005 2010 to secure 100
percent federal funding for the removal of the three identified bollards. The cost was
approximately $1.4 million dollars and the work was completed in 2014 by the U.S.
Army Corps of Engineers.
The remaining five bollards continue to provide some level of recreational value. Prior to
Christians drowning, none of these bollards has been identified as a safety concern, nor
in the Fire Department records as having contributed to accidents or injuries. Should the
City still wish to consider removing some or all of the remaining bollards, it would need
to consider the potential expense.

Water Safety Stakeholder Working Group


As directed by the Mayor, a working group of community stakeholders was assembled in
July to discuss Christian Kibabu and Ali Muhinas drownings, and to identify actions that
could be taken to reduce the likelihood of such tragedies reoccurring. These meetings
were well-attended by representatives of the Citys Parks, Recreation and Waterfront,
Fire, and Police Department, the Burlington School District, YMCA, Boys & Girls Club,
Association of Africans Living in Vermont (AALV), Vermont Refugee Resettlement
Program (VRRP), and others. Some of the action items determined by the group are
outlined below.

The Burlington School District will consider adding a water and swimming safety
curriculum in advance of the summer season.
Parks, Recreation and Waterfront (DPRW) will consider adding additional image-
based signage for non-English readers at beaches not protected by lifeguards.
Vermont Adult Learning volunteered to work with Vermont Refugee
Resettlement Program and DPRW to incorporate this new signage into their adult
English lessons.
DPRW agreed to create a water safety brochure that would be distributed by the
School District, non-profits and community partners with the intent to translate
the brochure into the most commonly spoken languages identified by the School
District and YMCA.
DPRW agreed to reach out to Colchester to determine what kind of signage they
use with regards to bollards. DPRW agreed to consider additional lifeguard
training to increase the pool of available summer workers.
Using language provided by the State Department of Health, participants agreed
to create social media campaigns to provide safe swimming tips in the spring and
throughout the summer, particularly after storm events
The City agreed to work with the YMCA, Boys & Girls Club, and other
organizations to increase access to and awareness about swimming lessons. This
work will be ongoing through the winter, with the intent to have members of this
group compile a comprehensive list of swimming lessons offered in the
community, and to attend community gatherings to educate the public about these
opportunities. The group will focus on immigrant and refugee events and
meetings, and will bring translators to these presentations.

Recommendations
Christians death was certainly a tragedy, but I remain hopeful that we can implement
some changes that will reduce the chances of future drownings and increase the safety of
those on and around the lake. I offer the following recommendations for your
consideration and look forward to discussing this with you.
1. The Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Department should bring forth a proposal
to enhance the staffing, training, hours of protection and the length of the season
to the swim area at North Beach. Such proposal should provide options for
consideration and a detail of expenses.
2. The City should use image-based signage to indicate areas of the lake that are not
protected by lifeguards.
3. The City in collaboration with the School Department and community partners
should develop a marketing/educational program that would provide safe
swimming and water safety tips.
4. The Fire and Police Departments in collaboration with the Harbormaster should
bring forth a proposal for a shared vessel that would meet the needs of both
waterfront business as well as public safety needs.
5. The City should abide by the prior determination that the bollards near Oakledge
Beach have recreational value, and will continue to monitor the bollards, should
they deteriorate to the point where they become unsafe.