Aerial ladder added to water rescue training

The waves weren't as high as usual and there was no rip current, but cool air and water temperatures still made it difficult to find the "body' in the water during a training session for Grand Haven Department of Public Safety officers Thursday afternoon at Grand Haven State Park. Sgt. Clint Holt took the officers through the annual session, heading into the 42-degree Lake Michigan water - along with about eight other GHDPS personnel, who made note that the dry suits they wore didn't keep all of the cold water out.
Becky Vargo
May 21, 2011


“It’s freezing,” a couple of them said as they walked out after their first rescue.

Officers had a refresher on getting into their gear and setting up rescue teams before heading down to the lake, as a scattering of people on the beach started flying kites in anticipation of this weekend’s kite festival.

“We’re going to use the aerial to get better perspective of the beach,” Holt said as the group headed across the sand. “We found 941 (the truck with the aerial bucket) helps — not only find that person submerged, but also to be able to see that little kid wandering alone down the beach.”

Holt said, under the right conditions, you can see a submerged person and signal to searchers in the water where to concentrate their efforts.

“You can really dial in that rescue crew,” he said.

The aerial ladder reaches up to 100 feet, if put straight up, said officer Dave Hudson. Although the training group didn’t go quite to that height, you still get a good view of the entire area, he said.

An overcast sky made it difficult to see into the water, but one pair of officers said they were able to see the sandbar and into the water more toward the north.

Another thing you might be able to see from an elevated position is a body tumbling in the trough of the waves, Holt said.

If the people on the aerial — who are using Polaroid sunglasses and binoculars — see what looks like the missing person, they will use a series of hand signals to tell the searchers where to go. Using this process, Holt demonstrated to the officers that a small group of people forming a human chain could cover a lot of area in a short amount of time. That is really important to get right to the spot and rescue the person within “the golden hour,” Holt said.

There are confirmed cases that people have survived being unconscious up to an hour and a half in cold water, he added.

The group worked the human chain — then practiced what Holt called an “instant rescue,” in which they assist a person in trouble before they have gone under.

The last part of the training was on the south pier, where officers talked about how to get down the pier when waves were crashing across it, without endangering themselves, Hudson said. They also discussed how to use the pier, personnel and ropes to safely bring someone back to the beach without trying to get back on the pier.

When asked if they found the training helpful, one of the officers responded “absolutely.”

“Unfortunately,” he said, “this is something we put to use several times a summer.”


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