GRAND HAVEN, Mich. — It’s a situation no one ever wants to be in: the crunch of the frozen snow, a crack of the ice, and a splash of freezing cold water. In mere seconds, you are in trouble. Hypothermia can set in fast, meaning your rescue has to be quick.
So the men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard train for the worst. Along with local first responders, they brave the cold nearly daily training for the call to help.
We checked in with the Coast Guard to see how they keep warm in sub-zero wind chills.
“We just got on the ice today, just like any day, to train new people and refresh everybody from last season,” says Operations Petty Officer Dustin McClelland.
The crew works through multiple scenarios where the victim is in various stages of consciousness and ability. As the group works together, there are a few tools which help make their rescue safe and quick.
“We carry with us marsars rescue board. It has a 4-to-1 ratio pulley system worked in. We use that and the rescue sling; two people have that on at all times. We also have a rescue line that we can anchor to the ice or to a piling like we did today.”
One of the key pieces of equipment the team uses is what they wear to keep them warm.
“We wear three different layers. What I’m wearing right now, it’s a wicking layer to keep us dry, a wool layer to keep us warm, and the dry suit to keep us dry. We also wear neoprene hood, gloves, and work out” says McClelland.
As winter intensified, the Coast Guard gave me the opportunity to train alongside them, so I nervously accepted their offer and prepared to jump through the ice. Senior Chief Kirk Mckay and Officer McClelland got my gear ready, and I headed to the wet room to get dressed. I met the team outside, and they helped me with final safety measures, my helmet, and my life vest.
After a short briefing, we headed out onto the ice. Typical for Michigan, the weather deteriorated in just a few minutes. Visibility dropped quickly.
My first rescue was called a self-help. I grabbed onto the ice shelf, kicked my legs furiously, and crawled onto the ice.
For the second rescue, I played a “responsive victim.” My rescuer slid a rescue sling around me and easily pulled me out of the water.
The next few scenarios involved a more incapacitated victim and required a greater amount of teamwork and technique.
This time the crew used in a rescue board and worked to securely strap me onto the board before pulling me out of the water.
But my suit sprang a leak, and my training had to end.
It was tough, but I enjoyed training with the team and have a new found respect for the strength and focus the job requires in the elements they face every day.
I also noticed one thing that doesn’t change with the weather: their mission: Semper Paratus, Always Ready.
A special thank-you to the men and women of Coast Guard Station Grand Haven who helped tell our story:
- Senior Chief Boatswains Mate Kirk McKay
- BM1 Dustin McClelland
- Boatswain Mate Second Class (BM2) Gregory Mattson
- Chief Boatswains Mate (BMC) Kristian Sova
- MK3 Michael Saliot
- BM3 Travis Ely
- Machinery Technician Second Class (MK2) Daniel Downing
- Boatswain Mate Third Class (BM3) Eric Ceallaigh
- Machinery Technician Third Class (MK3) Richard Marquez
This story is dedicated to the men and women of the United States Coast Guard, who sacrifice every day to keep our waters safe. We are grateful for your hard work and dedication.