ANNA MARIA ISLAND -- Flags have begun to pop up in Anna Maria Island this week -- but they're not ordinary.
Those living or visiting the island will see different colored flags as the result of the West Manatee Fire & Rescue District's new program for warning the public about beach conditions on the island.
In conjunction with National Beach Safety Week, Fire Station No. 1, 6001 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, and Fire Station No. 2, 10350 Cortez Road, Bradenton, will fly beach warning flags from 10:30 a.m. through dusk daily.
Updates on water conditions will be based on lifeguard station reports from Coquina and Manatee public beaches received twice a day. Firefighters will change flags to reflect the weather.
One red flag indicates a high hazard such as a high surf and/or strong currents.
One yellow flag indicates a medium hazard such as moderate surf and/or currents.
Each station will have a sign with information on flag color meanings.
Capt. Tom Sousa of the West Manatee Fire Rescue said a flag program discussion began last year after two fatalities, including one involving a 13-year-old boy drowned off the Gulf of Mexico.
"We typically get called to these incidents, especially if it's after hours," Sousa said, adding his department wants to be more proactive. Sousa said he hopes the two stations can catch the public's attention.
"It's not going to be something where everyone will
be running to the fire station to see what the beach condition is," he said. "If people become familiar with it and they want to know, they will see if it's a bad day or a good day to go in the water."
No flag flying does not assure safe waters.
"You still need to be cautious," Sousa said.
Randy Cooper, who serves on the Governing Board Commissioners of the West Manatee Fire and Rescue District, said most beaches on Anna Maria Island are private and don't have a flag system so this program can help bridge the gap.
"Letting people know about the conditions is a way to make them aware of the situation," Cooper said over the phone Wednesday afternoon.
Bradenton Beach Mayor William Shearon said he wasn't aware the program was being implemented this week but he has heard of it before.
"I live right on the water and the concern we always have is rip tides," he said. "Hopefully people will recognize the rip tide flag and not go in the water... Anything that we can do to notify the mass public is really what we need."
Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. You can follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.