The recent installation of life rings on Grand Haven’s south pier, following the pier reconstruction project, enabled bystanders to rescue a struggling swimmer from Lake Michigan on Saturday night, according to Sgt. Lee Adams of the Grand Haven Department of Public Safety.
Emergency crews responded to the Grand Haven State Park shortly before 10 p.m. on a call of a person drowning approximately 300 feet from shore. When officers from the Grand Haven department arrived, bystanders had already pulled the 17-year-old Kent County resident from the water. The teen was taken to shore for treatment by North Ottawa Community Hospital paramedics, but the victim refused medical treatment at the scene, Adams said.
Michigan Department of Natural Resources officers and Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office marine patrol deputies also responded.
Police said that bystanders saw the swimmer in distress and threw a life ring from the pier to the teen.
“The victim was not able to hold onto the ring because he was too tired and went under the water again,” Adams said. “An unknown swimmer was able grab him and pull him onto the life ring.”
Bystanders pulled both swimmers to safety on the south pier.
State park officials reported “green flag” conditions at the time.
Although life rings have been maintained on the south pier during the reconstruction project, 14 new rings have been located on area signs every 300 feet down the beach. They were recently acquired and implemented as part of a joint beach safety initiative dedicated to the elimination of drowning fatalities along Grand Haven beaches.
This coalition — which includes the Grand Haven Rotary Club, the DNR and the City of Grand Haven — recently added the 14 location markers and life rings at intervals along the state park beach and adjacent City Beach.
“The implementation of these markers and devices is designed to allow first responders to more rapidly locate and assist drowning victims and other individuals in need of aid,” Adams said.
The life ring used by those involved in Saturday’s rescue was located at the second station from the pier head.
“Witnesses to the incident credit the presence of the life rings, as well as the quick thinking and action of several bystanders with the successful rescue of the 17-year-old Kent County resident,” police said.
Other than the Saturday incident, there have been no water rescue calls as of Monday afternoon, Adams said.
“There’s always been people on the beach, but the water’s been so cold that nobody’s been going in, until this weekend,” he added.
However, other requests for help have involved the use of the location signs, Adams said.
About three weeks ago, shortly after the signs were installed, police responded to a fight involving about 200 people at the state park.
“They used the area sign to tell us where it was,” Adams said, noting that it turned out to be several young boys practicing wrestling moves. There were a lot of people watching them.
The signs were also used to locate a loose dog on the beach and a person smoking marijuana.
Adams said the location signs would work well for meeting parents of a lost child or for people trying to meet up with each other.
After the drownings on the beaches last summer, the Grand Haven Rotary Club reached out to the Grand Haven Department of Public Safety and offered to raise funds for water safety. The signs were suggested and the funds were used to make the project happen.
Area signs are on a post that also contains a life ring, directions on how and where to throw the life ring, and rip current information. There are also signs that direct emergency responders to the correct staging area for an incident on the beach.
One sign directs visitors to a radio station (1700 AM) for water safety information that includes an explanation of the flag system.
There are three swimming condition flags in different areas at the state park. A new flag was also installed at Grand Haven City Beach.
The area signs are numbered 1-14, starting with Area 1 at the south pier, and areas 13-14 in the dunes at the south end of the City Beach near Grand Avenue.
Additional funds are being sought to help purchase a Jeep the city is currently leasing. The Jeep allows public safety officers to transport more personnel and more equipment than the quad and Polaris the department uses.
“We’re also considering getting a drone with a drop system,” Adams said. “It can drop a life-saving flotation device that spreads out when it hits the water.”
The device is similar to a swim noodle, but it’s about 20 feet long and “very expensive,” Adams said. It would be dropped in an area that it could float back to the victim.