The Michigan DNR estimates that close to two million people brave the cold each winter to go ice fishing. When you add in all the pond hockey players, snowmobile riders, and ice sledding enthusiasts, the potential for danger becomes very real.
But, as ABC 10’s Rick Tarsitano explains, luckily, there is a fleet of highly-trained officers ready to jump in at a moment’s notice.
The frozen beauty of the lakes that give shape to the Upper Peninsula are unparalleled. Unlike most ice-covered coasts, these hallowed grounds see plenty of action when winter rolls around. But, danger lurks just below the surface.
Fortunately, Marquette County always has a handful of eyes watching over the water. Petty Officer Gerard Gagnon is just one of the men and women who make up U.S. Coast Guard Post 298.
In addition to being trained on each and every tool required for a successful rescue, Gagnon and the rest of the crew run through countless lifesaving scenarios, factoring in everything from the type of ice to the consciousness of the victim.
“We just try to think of every situation that could possibly happen,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Gagnon. “If we think of something new that we haven’t tried, we go and we try and train for that.”
The type of ice that you’re dealing with is very important, as well. Negaunee’s Teal Lake is 505 acres with spots reaching 32 feet deep. In most areas, you can see straight through to the bottom which is a good indication of strong ice.
If someone happens to fall through the ice, it’s only a matter of 10 or 15 minutes until hypothermia sets in. So, everyone involved needs to act fast and stick to their training.
“We’re looking for options,” Gagnon noted. “We’re looking to not put ourselves at risk as much, so that we don’t become a victim as well. But, we go out of our way to save that life.”
Gagnon joined the guard last February, and was quickly thrown into the deep end just two months later for his first ice rescue – a frigid April night full of lessons that will last a lifetime.
“If you’re in the water and you get caught, if you’re in cold water, if you have a strong will to live, most likely you will,” remarked Gagnon. “When we get to that scene, we tell people that we’re there for them and that we’re going to get them out. We’re going to get them home safe, and they are going to see their family.”
And they did that night.
But that isn’t always the case. An average of 8,000 people die due to ice related accidents every year.
One of the best ways to keep yourself out of harms way starts right at home.
“Before they even go out, preparation is key. We like the acronym I.C.E. – that stands for Intelligence, Clothing, and Equipment,” Gagnon added. “So, if you take precautions instead of taking chances, we’ll get there as soon as we can and we’ll pull you out of the ice.”
And when they do, there will be a warm welcome waiting for you.