2006-02-23 / Front Page

Firefighters, Coast Guard Form Rescue Partnership

City Fire Dept. Receives New Dry Suits
By Ryan Schlehuber

Bryce Tracy, captain and training officer for the St. Ignace Fire Department, with one of the new rescue suits. Bryce Tracy, captain and training officer for the St. Ignace Fire Department, with one of the new rescue suits. Firefighters from the St. Ignace Fire Department collaborated with the United States Coast Guard in a water rescue training program in Moran Bay Wednesday evening, February 8. Firefighters got the chance to test two dry suits which the Coast Guard donated to the department.

The bright yellow dry suits come equipped with tether kits, rescue slings, and ice awls, which are picks that can help the person climb out of the water onto the ice. Dry suits are insulated and act as a flotation device. They keep water out, as opposed to wet suits, which allow some water in to be heated by the body.

More than a dozen firefighters and eight Coast Guard sailors conducted simulated water rescue off the shore of the city’s Hazelton Street boat launch. Members of the fire department took turns using the two dry suits and the Coast Guard personnel were equipped with their new dry suits, which are equipped for uses in addition to water rescue.

Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, federal agencies have been working more closely with local emergency response units, said Petty Officer Jim Renkes at Station St. Ignace.

Firefighters from St. Ignace Fire Department and officers from United States Coast Guard Station St. Ignace prepare to enter the cold water of Lake Huron in Moran Bay during a collaborative water rescue training Wednesday evening, February 8. Firefighters from St. Ignace Fire Department and officers from United States Coast Guard Station St. Ignace prepare to enter the cold water of Lake Huron in Moran Bay during a collaborative water rescue training Wednesday evening, February 8. “The Coast Guard had always kept themselves autonomous,” he said, “but since 9-11 happened, everyone realized that it is important to work with local management.”

The Coast Guard has also donated equipment and helped train emergency responders in other areas of the Eastern Upper Peninsula, such as Garfield Township, and it has helped train Michigan State Police divers.

The donated equipment, said Petty Officer Renkes, allows the Coast Guard and local departments to augment each other’s equipment and assistance in emergency situations.

“Everyone will know everyone’s equipment,” he said.

Over the decades, a firefighter’s duty has evolved into more complex responsibilities, said Bryce Tracy, captain and training officer for the St. Ignace Fire Department.

“We’re asked to do more than just put out fires nowadays,” he said. “Now, we need to be prepared for any type of situation, and that includes water rescue, especially since we are surrounded by water.”

The rest of the 30-man crew was involved in another training exercise that night, a snowmobile rescue drill. At least 80 percent of the fire department is certified for water rescue to some degree, said Mr. Tracy. The other 20 percent are in the process of being certified.

The two units trained in darkness, which was beneficial for both crews, said Petty Officer Renkes.

“It’s not the Coast Guard’s policy for our guys to go on a rescue on the ice at night,” he said. “Our helicopter [from Traverse City] is our primary ice rescue resource, but now we’ve realized that we must be ready to go on foot or by boat because there are so many limitations to the helicopter.”

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