When the Allatoona Lake Water Safety Task Force met for the fourth time Thursday in Acworth, two participants received surprise honors for their efforts in public safety.
Georgia Department of Natural Resources Sgt. Mike Barr, who is now located in Gordon County, was given the Corps of Engineers Commander’s Award for his contributions to water safety during his 12-year term at Allatoona. Georgia Power Squadron’s Jeff Wise earned the National Association of Safe Boating Law Administrators’ Georgia Boating Educator of the Year honor.
“There is a lot of good stuff that came out of this water safety task force. It all starts with communications. I think a lot of that initially started with Mike Barr,” said Corps Operations Project Manager Jerry Fulton. “He’s been a great resource for Allatoona for many years. ... We recommended Mike for the Commander’s Award for public service, which is the highest award to a civilian who is not government.”
The award read in part, “... Sgt. Michael G. Barr is presented with the Commander’s Award for public service for rendering selfless service to the public and specifically for his commitment to water safety while working as a Georgia Department of Natural Resources officer on Allatoona Lake from November 2003 to June 2015. The true number of lives saved through his vigilance to water safety cannot be tallied. Sgt. Barr departs Allatoona Lake, leaving it a better and safer place, for which there is no higher honor for public service. The exceptional working relationship between the Army Corps of Engineers and Georgia DNR reflects directly on the communication and leadership skills of Sgt. Barr. Sgt. Barr’s professional ability, initiative and loyal dedication to duty reflects ... upon himself and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.”
After a career as a state conservation officer on Lake Lanier, Allatoona and the Chattahoochee River, Barr said he was “extremely humbled” by the award, which should have been a “team award.”
“It feels very humbling to have received an award of recognition from a partner agency — U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Allatoona Project — that seeks the same goal of recreational water safety on Allatoona Lake. The past 12 years on Allatoona have included a lot of emergency response calls, some fatality boating incidents, unfortunate drownings, search and rescues, removal of impaired boat operators, and countless hours of boating patrols, but these events were all a team effort,” Barr said. “I have been extremely fortunate to have worked with some of the most professional conservation officers at the Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division, highly motivated U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rangers, and highly trained state, county and local police and emergency response teams.”
In his 20-year career, Barr said, tragedies brought on when people were simply enjoying recreation motivated him to promote water safety education.
“It has become my mission to help educate recreational water users about boating safety and how simple water safety
practices can help save lives. Public safety is very important to me and has become a part of who I am,” he said.
Working together for about five years, Barr nominated Wise for the state educator award because of his continuous efforts at keeping boaters safe.
“So many people are interested in water sports and yet, when they get to the point of buying a vessel, have no idea of what they’re doing as far as safety rules, rules of the road, navigation, everything it takes to safely operate. It’s sort of like handing the keys to your 15-year-old and saying, ‘There’s [Interstate] 75. Good luck.’ In the boating world, it takes a lot of special expertise to realize how to properly and safely navigate the ... waters,” Barr said during his introduction of Wise. “One of probably, the results of his work over the period of time has been that we were hopefully seeing less ... incidents and less serious situations on the water. Jeff has spent countless hours preparing.
“I’ve been to several of his classes and the PowerPoint presentations he gives are just wonderful, but the real-world boating experience is what the real plus is with Jeff. He can tell you in the class, when you do something wrong on a situation with the vessel, how it impacts you and impacts those around you on the water.”
With 250 members around Atlanta and more than 35,000 nationwide, the squadrons — which act as individual clubs — are comprised of recreational boaters who assist those new to boating.
“We teach an awful lot of boating safety classes all the way through bluewater navigation, around-the-world-by-boat kinds of courses. You take all of our set of courses, you are ready to navigate anywhere in the world by boat. We’re big into education and teaching a lot of classes,” Wise said. “This little effort we started on Allatoona was just because one of the things we do is we reach out and try to teach to the public. So that was just an effort to start teaching here at Allatoona and get more people into more boating safety classes, try to save some lives out there because, among other things, we are on the water, too, along with them. Every time one of them breaks a rule of the road, we may be the guy on the other end here that’s trying to avoid the collision.”
Wise said the local program will become a model at the national level on how to work with the Department of Natural Resources.
“[The award] means a tremendous amount to me personally because I put an awful lot of time and effort into trying to teach the public here,” he said. “... When we get people like Mike to come in and talk about accidents that happened here on our lake or we show a picture of a fire burning on our lake, we can suddenly start relating to people. ... The award means something but what means a whole lot more is maybe we’ve saved some lives out there.”
Launched in February, the Allatoona Lake Water Safety Task Force includes Cobb County Police, City of Acworth Police Department, Cherokee County Sheriff’s Department, Bartow County Sheriff’s Office, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Safe Kids Cobb County, Safe Kids Cherokee County, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bartow 911, Cherokee 911, Georgia Power Squadron and the Coast Guard Auxiliary.