While summer may not officially start until later this month when it comes to the calendar, Mother Nature has a different opinion as the temperatures are heating up and expected to reach the triple digits for the first time this year in the next few days.  Much like the heat, activity  on the areas lakes and waterways is on the rise as well, and local agencies are stressing everyone to use caution as they cool off so a day of fun doesn’t turn to tragedy. 

“As summer approaches and outdoor recreational activities increase, the Folsom Fire Department is emphasizing the critical importance of water safety in Folsom’s lakes and rivers,” Folsom Fire Chief Ken Cusano told Folsom Times. “With Folsom Lake and the American River attracting residents and visitors alike, safety should always come first when enjoying our beautiful waterways.’


First responders with the Folsom Fire Department have been busy in the months leading up summer training for the season that is now upon us. While many are bundled up to keep warm, or enjoying indoor activities in the final months of winter, it’s not uncommon to see the department busy on Lake Natoma or nearby stretches of the American River aboard one of their rescue boats training and brushing up on their water rescue techniques and maneuvers.  Other area agencies are doing the same, including teams from the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire Department, California State Parks, El Dorado Hills Fire and others. 

Cusano noted that while this year early runoff and water flows are not as strong as they were last year that saw record rains and snow into late spring followed by a rapid rise in temperatures that intensified the dangers in local waterways to the point some beaches and watercraft rental suppliers were closed the first few weeks of the season. While this season is closer to being normal, the dangers are still lurking below the surface out there, literally. As they stress each and every year, the Folsom Fire Department urges everyone to wear a life jacket.


“Precautionary measures and planning can prevent tragedies,” Cusano shared. “Always wear a life jacket, even if you are a good swimmer.”

The waters in Folsom’s Lake Natoma may appear calm from the shoreline. However, all should be aware of the depth of the lakes as well as the temperature and the currents below that could prove deadly. Folsom Lake is nearly full already this year, so many trees and other vegetation that is often on the shorelines is now just below the surface, posing a risk for a swimmer to become tangled within it, which could be a bad combination with the chilly waters.


“It’s really important to remember that the water will be cold right now and there’s always the chance of debris this time of year when the levels are higher. Colder temperatures can quickly incapacitate even the strongest of swimmers,” Cusano warned, also reminding everyone that many of the riverbeds have sudden drop offs that can take a swimmer by surprise.


Each and every year, unfortunately, first responders are faced with recovering drowning victims. In almost all of those cases, the victims were not wearing life jackets. Wearing a device tops the list of tips the department offers to stay safe keeping cool out there. Six simple steps can greatly reduce the chance of an accident and are as follows”

  • Wear a life jacket: Regardless of swimming ability, always wear a properly fitted life jacket when in or near the water.  Visit the Folsom Fire Department website to learn more about the Life Jacket Loan program
  • Stay informed: Keep abreast of weather conditions and water levels, as they can change rapidly, impacting safety.
  • Avoid swimming alone: Always swim with a buddy and keep an eye out for each other.
  • Mind boat traffic: Stay clear of areas with heavy boat traffic, and never dive into unfamiliar waters.
  • Avoid alcohol: Alcohol impairs judgment and coordination, increasing the likelihood of accidents. Save the drinks for after-the-water activities.
  • Learn CPR: In the event of an emergency, knowing CPR can be lifesaving.  Consider taking a CPR certification course to equip yourself with this vital skill.

Another big factor when it comes to incidents on the water is that of impairment. Drugs and alcohol can not only cause an issue for those in the water, they can be a contributing factor to those operating a boat or watching children during a day at the lake. 


“Do not mix alcohol and drugs when recreating around the waterways.  These can impair your judgement and your abilities to recognize danger,” stresses Folsom Fire Assistant Chief Mark Piacentini. “Keep a close eye on children.  Moving water is much more dangerous that static water like a swimming pool.”

When it comes to enjoying fun in the water within the Folsom Lake Recreation area, past injuries and even fatalities have occurred when swimmers jump or dive off high rocks or cliffs near the shorelines. Rope swings have also been issue, causing many injuries in the past and a fatality of a young woman at Folsom Lake last year. Rope swings are illegal in the parks and official urge anyone who finds one to first of all, not use it and secondly, report it so rangers can quickly remove it.  

“We strongly discourage people to jump in the water, diving plunging off rocks, rope swings. Those are dangerous activities,” explained Mike Howard, a state parks superintendent that works Folsom Lake. “When the lake is high, there’s a lot of rocks and trees adjacent to the water and people tend to want to put rope swings on those.”

When it comes to wearing life jackets, cost may often be a factor for some families and local agencies have programs to make sure everyone has the opportunity to stay safe. Locally, California State Parks has kiosks at the shoreline of several recreation areas offering loaner life jackets.  Additionally, you can check out life jackets for both adults and children for free at Folsom Fire Station #35 located at 35 Glenn Drive in Folsom.  Making a quick stop by the station on the way to your outing could be a life-saving decision.  Residents and visitors can learn more about the life jacket program HERE.

Local first responders, pictured here on Lake Natoma, are ready for the summer season ahead and urge everyone to play it safe and consider wearing life jackets like those enjoying Lake Natoma above..
Folsom Times photos by Bill Sullivan
Bill Sullivan
Author: Bill Sullivan

Bill Sullivan has over 25 years of professional journalism and content creation experience in which he has earned 37 professional awards. He is the co-founder/publisher of Folsom Times an All Town Media LLC product.