Training to save

Becky Vargo • Feb 6, 2019 at 9:00 AM

Just getting to their training site was treacherous enough as officers found themselves in the drink when stepping on the wrong spot Tuesday afternoon.

Officers from the Grand Haven Department of Public Safety and U.S. Coast Guard personnel from Station Grand Haven shared training time on the ice, both on the Grand River’s south channel at Chinook Pier and on Lake Michigan at Grand Haven State Park.

“It’s easy now to tell where the ice is compromised,” said Capt. Clint Holt of the Grand Haven Department of Public Safety, as he looked over the dark and light portions of ice in the channel. “But get 5-6 inches of snow on top of that and you can see it will be even more dangerous.”

After a few days of above-freezing temperatures, most of the snow cover is gone and any remaining ice was clearly visible Tuesday.

Officers wearing dry suits slid into the water, if they hadn’t already gone through the ice, to get used to the feeling of the suit in the icy river.

Holt instructed them on how to “burp” their suits to create a seal, but just about every suit has some kind of leak, he said.

“We use them so much for training,” he added.

Ice rescue training will also be conducted Thursday, and next week on Tuesday and Thursday, so all shifts can be trained.

Coast Guard personnel join the public safety staff because the city officers do different types of training, Holt explained. 

Police used ladders, sleds and baskets to get both “conscious” and “unconscious” victims out of the water. They also filled a bag with a fire hose and rocks to simulate a body on the bottom of the river and used a hook to try to find the bag.

A large section of ice on which some officers were positioned broke free and started floating down river. Holt emphasized that the officers needed to be aware of things like that and use it to reposition themselves to calculate where their missing person could be.

The crew moved to the state park for another series of rescue exercises.

Several hundred feet from shore, the ice shelf reached 10-12 feet above the ice pack. Holt said the scenario here would be someone who fell off the ice shelf and broke his or her leg. It was up to the officers to get the leg stabilized, the person secured on a basket and then hosted up onto the ice shelf using a ladder.

Holt said it isn’t unusual for them to be down on the ice pack watching water spout up through holes between them and shore.

“The ice is unstable,” he said. “The lake is constantly moving under the ice.”

Holt explained that when the water finds a weak spot, it shoots up and through. Those holes can then freeze over, but still are weak and a potential death trap for anyone who steps on them.

Although it was a reasonably nice day to be training, Officer Terry Turkelson said they would have been out in last week’s frigid cold if that’s when the training was scheduled.

“Things happen in any weather, so we train in all weather conditions,” he said.

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