MILTON — Standing next to the beach at Houghton’s Pond Thursday environmental and public safety officials urged the public to practice water safety ahead of Memorial Day weekend.
“We know we got a dose of summer last weekend, a little bit early,” Stephanie Cooper, acting commissioner of the Department of Conservation and Recreation, said. “The extreme heat that hit New England over the last couple of weeks reminded us of what we already knew: that the public is anxious to get out and enjoy our waterfront and pools. And on the hot days that we have, that’s where people want to be.”
This Memorial Day weekend, 15 state beaches will be guarded and a total of 80 designated swimming locations will be open, officials said. Cooper said the DCR hires more than 600 lifeguards every year, who are “one of the most important tools that we have for giving people a safe experience.”
The National Weather Service predicted heat and humidity in the region “for a good portion of next week” and that it “does appear that we will have a return of summer warmth on Memorial Day.”
“We are truly coming into the outdoor recreational season,” said Beth Card, secretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. “We anticipate thousands of people venturing to state parks and beaches all across the Commonwealth.”
Card and other officials offered several tips to ensure water safety, including encouraging parents to closely watch their children, using the buddy system, no running or horseplay around pools, avoiding consuming alcohol and drugs on the waterfront, not swimming past one’s skill level, and notifying lifeguards and park staff if someone goes missing.
Over the last several years, Card noted, there have been waterfront signage in multiple languages that provide useful information to visitors, and life rings have been placed in strategic locations in case of emergency.
“Today as a mom myself, I ask folks to think about your community, think about where your kids are; keep an eye on them,” said Card. “I know it can be a challenge, but with partnership of families and community and our lifeguards and our team here, we can do everything we can to keep everyone safe.”
Officials also emphasized taking advantage of free swimming lessons, such as ones offered by DCR or through State Police’s Dolphins programs, which helps teach city kids how to swim.
“Lifeguards are certainly one of the most important tools that we have for giving people a safe experience at our waterfronts, but it’s also equally important for everybody to have the opportunity to learn how to swim,” said Cooper. “And so that’s why we have been offering free swimming lessons to children and adults.”
Card said the hourly rate for lifeguards has also increased to between $21 and $26, dependent on the position and certifications. Lifeguards who stay throughout the season will also be offered $500 retention bonuses, Card said.
Major Kevin Clayton of the Mass. Environmental Police was reminded of the time he investigated a situation where a boat capsized, but the people were saved because they had lifejackets on board.
He said 86 percent of drownings that have drownings that have occurred “because people did not wear personal floatation devices or life jackets.”
The call for public safety follows several arrests on beaches last weekend. Five were arrested at Carson Beach last Saturday, and another four were arrested Sunday, according to State Police. At Revere Beach, seven were arrested Saturday, and one person was charged with disorderly conduct and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon on Sunday, officials said.
“At the end of the day, I think everyone’s looking for voluntary compliance with the law, so that everyone can enjoy their time together and recreate in our beautiful Commonwealth,” said State Police Sergeant Michael Josti in response to a reporter’s question.
And while water safety was being advocated at a state park, fire officials were pushing for attention to be paid to fire safety during weekend barbeques. State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey, Shrewsbury Fire Chief James Vuona, president of the Fire Chiefs Association of Massachusetts, and Chief Fire Warden David Celino of the DCR jointly issued the alert Thursday.
“Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer, and we want to remind everyone to play it safe as they enjoy the warm weather,” Ostroskey said in a statement. “Take the appropriate safety precautions against fires and burns so you can have fun all summer long.”
“Don’t let a fire or serious burn ruin your summer,” said Vuona. “Practice fire safety with friends and family safely this season, and you won’t have your local firefighters showing up as uninvited guests.”
“We’ve seen increased brush and wildland fire activity and larger fire growth during the spring fire season this year,” said Celino. “As more people spend more time outside in the warm months ahead, we want to be sure everyone enjoys the great outdoors safely and responsibly.”
John R. Ellement of the Globe staff contributed to this report.