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Updated: 3 hours 36 min ago

Coast Guard member arraigned following fatal car accident

Fri, 01/27/2017 - 12:34

CLEVELAND — A Detroit-based Coast Guardsman was arraigned at Michigan's 48th District Court in Oakland County, Friday.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Gregory Belkin, 43, is being held without bond on charges of second-degree murder and operating while intoxicated resulting in death.

Belkin was taken into custody Wednesday afternoon by the Bloomfield Township Police Department for driving under the influence after he was involved in a car accident that killed another driver late Tuesday night. He was off duty at the time of the accident.

Belkin is assigned to Coast Guard Sector Detroit, where he manages the storage and transfer of aids-to-navigation equipment.

"This is an absolutely tragic incident, and our thoughts and prayers are with the friends and family members of the victim,” said Capt. Scott LeMasters, commander of Sector Detroit. “The Coast Guard is an organization committed to helping others and saving lives, and driving under the influence goes against our core values of honor, respect and devotion to duty."

The Coast Guard is cooperating fully with local authorities in their investigation of the accident. 

Think Auxiliary! How America's volunteer life-saving service is stepping up its operational roles

Fri, 01/27/2017 - 08:33
By Petty Officer 2nd Class Anthony L. Soto

US Coast Guard awards navigation system contract

Fri, 01/27/2017 - 05:22

WASHINGTON — The Coast Guard's Command, Control and Communications Engineering Center (C3CEN) awarded a contract to FLIR Maritime US, Inc., of Nashua, New Hampshire, Wednesday, for the Scalable Integrated Navigation System, Two (SINS-2).

The single award Firm Fixed Price Indefinite Delivery, Indefinite Quantity contract is valued at $50 million and consists of a five-year base with a five-year option. The total period of performance is 10 years.

The Coast Guard originally procured legacy SINS for a portion of the small boat fleet in 2002, and the original components have significantly exceeded their life expectancy. Efforts to refresh legacy SINS began in August 2013 with revising the system’s required specifications, followed by numerous revisions as a result of administrative, legal, fiscal, procurement and regulatory issues.

SINS-2 consists of a suite of commercially available electronic equipment and sensors consisting of low power Radar/Chart Plotter, Multi-Function Displays (MFD), Single Frequency Global Positioning System (GPS), and other required navigation components. This navigation system serves as the primary means of navigation on all Coast Guard small boats and as a backup navigation system on its cutters. The contract will facilitate the installation of the system on over 2,000 Coast Guard vessels consisting of 54 different classes over the life of the contract. SINS-2 uses a systems approach to provide seamless integration of critical navigation sensors and display capabilities to boat and cutter operators.

C3CEN is developing the Engineering Change for all affected cutter and small boat classes and anticipates initial prototyping in summer 2017.

Additional details regarding the solicitation are available on FedBizOps: https://www.fbo.gov/notices/35c434738b0e1593205869e25439f573.

For more information, please contact Chief Warrant Officer Chad Saylor at 202-372-4644.

US Coast Guard awards navigation system contract

Fri, 01/27/2017 - 05:22

WASHINGTON — The Coast Guard's Command, Control and Communications Engineering Center (C3CEN) awarded a contract to FLIR Maritime US, Inc., of Nashua, New Hampshire, Wednesday, for the Scalable Integrated Navigation System, Two (SINS-2).

The single award Firm Fixed Price Indefinite Delivery, Indefinite Quantity contract is valued at $50 million and consists of a five-year base with a five-year option. The total period of performance is 10 years.

The Coast Guard originally procured legacy SINS for a portion of the small boat fleet in 2002, and the original components have significantly exceeded their life expectancy. Efforts to refresh legacy SINS began in August 2013 with revising the system’s required specifications, followed by numerous revisions as a result of administrative, legal, fiscal, procurement and regulatory issues.

SINS-2 consists of a suite of commercially available electronic equipment and sensors consisting of low power Radar/Chart Plotter, Multi-Function Displays (MFD), Single Frequency Global Positioning System (GPS), and other required navigation components. This navigation system serves as the primary means of navigation on all Coast Guard small boats and as a backup navigation system on its cutters. The contract will facilitate the installation of the system on over 2,000 Coast Guard vessels consisting of 54 different classes over the life of the contract. SINS-2 uses a systems approach to provide seamless integration of critical navigation sensors and display capabilities to boat and cutter operators.

C3CEN is developing the Engineering Change for all affected cutter and small boat classes and anticipates initial prototyping in summer 2017.

Additional details regarding the solicitation are available on FedBizOps: https://www.fbo.gov/notices/35c434738b0e1593205869e25439f573.

For more information, please contact Chief Warrant Officer Chad Saylor at 202-372-4644.

Coast Guard medically evacuates fisherman near Cold Bay, Alaska

Thu, 01/26/2017 - 16:04

JUNEAU, Alaska — A Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak MH-60 Jayhawk rescue helicopter crew forward deployed in Cold Bay, medevaced a man from the fishing vessel American Dynasty approximately 60 nautical miles north of Cold Bay, Thursday afternoon.

The 59-year-old fisherman was hoisted and transported to Cold Bay where he was met by Guardian Flight personnel for further transfer to Anchorage.

Watchstanders at Coast Guard District Seventeen received notification from Health Force Partners requesting a medevac for a crewmember  aboard the American Dynasty who was suffering from symptoms of appendicitis.  The duty flight surgeon recommended the medevac and the helicopter crew was dispatched. 

“Utilizing our forward operating location in Cold Bay helps us ensure the safety of mariners during the winter fishing season,” said Master Chief Petty Officer James Armstrong, Coast Guard District Seventeen Command Center Supervisor. “The location in Cold Bay can eliminate hours of flight time transiting from Kodiak to maritime emergencies in Western Alaska during one of the busiest fishing seasons of the year.”

Weather on scene during the time of the medevac was reported as 20-mph winds with six to eight-foot seas and four miles of visibility.

Coast Guard rescues man from Humboldt Bay jetty

Thu, 01/26/2017 - 15:57

McKinleyville, Calif. — The Coast Guard rescued a man from the Humboldt Bay north jetty Thursday after he became stranded in his vehicle during a period of high surf and high tide.

Coast Guard Sector Humboldt Bay watchstanders dispatched crews aboard an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter and a 47-foot Motor Lifeboat to the scene after being notified at approximately 11:26 a.m., that a man had driven his vehicle onto the jetty where his vehicle became disabled, putting him in distress from breaking waves and high tides.

The Coast Guard aircrew determined the conditions to be too hazardous for other means of rescue, and hoisted the man into the helicopter. The man was reportedly uninjured and the vehicle remains on the jetty until conditions are safe for recovery.

The Coast Guard reminds the public to remain vigilant during changing ocean conditions and remain off coastal rocks, jetties, and outcroppings during periods of high surf. When boating, always wear a life jacket, file a float plan, and check the weather before heading out. The National Weather Service forecast for the area can be found at http://www.wrh.noaa.gov/eka/.

USCGC Morgenthau crew receives prestigious award for cutter excellence

Thu, 01/26/2017 - 13:34

 

U.S. Coast Guard photo.

HONOLULU – The crew of the USCGC Morgenthau (WHEC 722) was awarded the Capt. Hopley Yeaton Cutter Excellence Award for 2016.

“From conducting replenishment and gunfire support missions during the Vietnam War to most recently patrolling the Bering Sea in support of America’s fishing industry, this ship has proven itself from Aztec Shores to Arctic Zones and remains the ‘Pride of the Pacific,'” said Capt. Edward St. Pierre, commanding officer of USCGC Morgenthau. "This award is a reflection of the hard work and dedication of Morgenthau's crew and I couldn't be more proud of them."  

The Capt. Hopley Yeaton Cutter Excellence Award is presented to cutter crews that distinguish themselves from other units through exceptional performance in categories including operations and mission accomplishment, commitment to crew and families, cutter training and readiness and engineering.

In 2016, Morgenthau’s crew completed two three-month fisheries patrols in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska, totaling more than 189 days away from homeport ensuring the safety and  integrity of  an industry valued at over $6 billion annually and accounting for more than half of the annual catch in the United States. As a long-range law enforcement platform, the crew conducted more than 125 at-sea boardings, some in partnership with NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service.

Morgenthau was the Coast Guard’s primary response asset during five major search and rescue cases including a September 2016 rescue of a 79-year-old man adrift aboard a disabled vessel. The vessel and operator were ultimately transported to Dutch Harbor. In October 2016, Morgenthau’s crew responded to the distress call of a disabled and adrift, 430-foot cargo with 11 crewmembers aboard. Morgenthau also towed a 105-foot crab fishing vessel and crew to Dutch Harbor during extreme heavy weather.

On the training and maintenance side, the crew maintained the highest level of readiness resulting in the crew passing a Ready For Sea assessment with flying colors in advance of a major patrol. They also achieved high unit drill and mandated training completion rates through 190 drills and the qualification of crewmembers in over 300 watchstations. Due to a robust law enforcement program, they maintained three fully qualified boarding teams of four members each, a force multiplier enabling the cutter to conduct multiple boardings simultaneously and achieve a record-breaking 70 boardings in one patrol. This set the standard for training and readiness in the Coast Guard’s cutter fleet.

The engineers maintained a 93 percent preventative maintenance completion rate, the highest in the Pacific Area cutter fleet. Their skills and knowledge were put to test conducting an overhaul of one of the cutter’s diesel generators, an evolution which required removing the generator through a hole cut in the side of the ship. They displayed great ingenuity making repairs to a main diesel engine exhaust leak despite having been shipped the incorrect parts for the job.

While in port, the crew developed strong bonds with communities at home and abroad through volunteer service with Feed Hawaii Together, Habitat for Humanity and a beach cleanup event following the destruction of Tropical Storm Darby. The crew also volunteered at Hokulani Elementary School and while in Unalaska assisted in running a Midnight Madness event for local children and a Halloween Family Night.

The Morgenthau is a 378-foot high endurance cutter originally commissioned in 1969 and homeported in Honolulu. The crew currently patrols from South America to the Bering Sea, conducting counter-narcotics missions, alien migrant interdiction operations, foreign and domestic fisheries enforcement, and search and rescue.

Coast Guard rescues kayaker from cold water of Piscataqua River

Thu, 01/26/2017 - 12:10

BOSTON — A Coast Guard rescue crew from Station Portsmouth Harbor rescued a kayaker Thursday afternoon near Wood Island at the mouth of the Piscataqua River after he capsized in the 43-degree water.

Coast Guard watchstanders learned of the overturned kayak at 12:10 p.m. from a good Samaritan who saw the kayak from land.

A 47-foot Motor Lifeboat crew from Station Portsmouth Harbor was underway at the time conducting training near the vicinity of the report, and was able to locate the kayaker at around 12:15 p.m.

"When we pulled up to the kayak we saw legs sticking out from under it," said Petty Officer 1st Class Amanda Christensen the coxswain of the lifeboat. "He must have been breathing from a pocket of air in the kayak."

The crew pulled the 35-year-old man, who was not wearing a life jacket at the time, aboard the lifeboat and treated him for hypothermia and shock. They used scissors from their first aid kit to remove his cold wet clothing. 

"My crew acted quickly using blankets to dry and warm the man up," Christensen added.

The crew then brought the man to a pier near the Coast Guard Station where he was transferred to awaiting Portsmouth Fire Department EMS.

The functional survivability rate was less than two hours based on the water temperature and the clothing the man was wearing. 

The New Hampshire Marine Patrol also responded to the call.

Here are some important safety tips:

 -Paddlers are more exposed to the elements than regular boaters.  Paddlers need to equip their boats with required and recommended safety gear, such as a hand-held VHF-FM radio and wear the proper personal protective clothing, including dry or wet suits, when advisable.

- Paddlers are strongly encouraged to purchase and carry an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) or Personal Locator Beacon (PLB).

-Signaling devices, like day and night visible flares, a signal mirror, and/or a whistle, air horn or sound producing device, help broadcast your distress and can aid emergency crews in locating you.

-File a Float plan:  A float plan is telling someone where you are going and when you will be back. Emergency responders need this valuable information in order to search for distressed paddlers.  The Coast Guard mobile app allows you to complete an electronic float plan and send it to a friend or family member.

-Safety in numbers:  Paddling in groups increases the chances of being seen by motorized boaters.

Multimedia Release: Coast Guard Cutter Cushing crew helps release 27 sea turtles

Thu, 01/26/2017 - 09:31

Editors Note: To view or download high resolution photos and video, please click on the images below. DVIDS requires registration to download imagery.

Video:

Photos:

Coast Guard repatriates 74 migrants to the Dominican Republic

Thu, 01/26/2017 - 04:33
27 other migrants facing federal prosecution in Puerto Rico

Update: Coast Guard suspends search for person in water offshore Maui

Wed, 01/25/2017 - 22:03
HONOLULU — The Coast Guard suspended the active search at sunset, Wednesday, for a man swept out to sea near Kahului, Maui. “Our deepest condolences go out to the family, friends and loved ones effected," said Petty Officer 1st Class Will Cusic, of Coast Guard Sector Honolulu. "Suspending a search is a difficult decision to make, especially when we aren’t able to bring closure to the family.”

Responders conducted a total of 17 searches covering 539 square miles over a span of two days.

Involved in the search were:

- MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crews and HC-130 Hercules airplane crews from Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point

- Crew of USCGC Ahi (WPB 87364)

- Ground crews from Coast Guard Station Maui

- Maui Fire Department helicopter crews and additional ground crews

Watchstanders at Coast Guard Sector Honolulu Command Center were notified at 9:15 p.m., Monday, of two people swept out to sea near the Olivine Tide Pools. One person was recovered and safely transported to Maui Memorial reportedly in stable condition. 

Coast Guard medevacs man from cruise ship

Wed, 01/25/2017 - 20:24

NEW ORLEANS – The Coast Guard medevaced a 45-year-old man from the cruise ship Carnival Triumph approximately 11 miles south of Southwest Pass, Louisiana, Wednesday.

Watchstanders at Coast Guard Sector New Orleans received a report at 6:57 p.m. that a cruise ship passenger was suffering from symptoms similar to a heart attack.

Sector New Orleans watchstanders directed the launch of an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew from Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans to assist the man.

The aircrew arrived on scene at 8:48 p.m. and hoisted the man and a nurse from the cruise ship.

Due to time and weight restrictions, the aircrew left their rescue swimmer aboard the cruise ship and transported the man and nurse to emergency medical services at Air Station New Orleans in stable condition.

EMS transported the man to West Jefferson Medical Center in Marrero, Louisiana.

Coast Guard suspends search for missing kayaker near Dumbarton Bridge

Wed, 01/25/2017 - 16:45

SAN FRANCISCO — The Coast Guard suspended the active search Wednesday for a kayaker who went missing near the Dumbarton Bridge Tuesday.

The search for Kenneth Maldonado was suspended at about 12:10 p.m., after Coast Guard helicopter and boat crews, along with numerous crews from local fire departments, conducted extensive searches covering the South Bay area for approximately 20 hours. 

Crews involved in the search included:

  • Coast Guard Cutter Tern, an 87-foot patrol boat homeported in San Francisco
  • MH-65 Dolphin helicopter from Coast Guard Air Station San Francisco 
  • 45-foot Response Boat-Medium from Coast Guard Station San Francisco 
  • Alameda County Fire Department
  • Menlo Park Fire Protection Distric
  • San Jose County Fire Department
  • Santa Clara Fire Department
  • San Mateo Fire Department
  • Redwood City Fire Department

The Coast Guard suspends a search and rescue case with great care and deliberation. After a probable search area is saturated with assets and crews, and the person is not located, the decision is made to suspend an active search.

"The decision to suspend a search is extremely difficult and our thoughts are with the missing person and his family at this time," said Capt. Tony Ceraolo, the commander of Coast Guard Sector San Francisco.

The Coast Guard can resume an active search if credible information is received regarding the missing person’s whereabouts.

The search began at about 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. Information about the initial notification and continued search efforts can be found at http://www.uscgnews.com/go/doc/4007/2914446/.

Editor's Note: The above photos show the types of Coast Guard assets involved in the search efforts for reference. 

Imagery Release: Coast Guard rescues pilot near Shelikof Strait, Alaska

Wed, 01/25/2017 - 13:33
Editor's Note: To view or download imagery, please click on the images below. Downloading from DVIDS requires free registration.

Coast Guard medevacs woman from cruise ship near Puerto Rico

Wed, 01/25/2017 - 12:40

The crew of a Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin rescue helicopter from Air Station Borinquen medevaced a 68-year-old woman Wednesday morning from the MS Koningsdam cruise ship near Puerto Rico. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The Coast Guard medevaced a 68-year-old woman Wednesday morning from the MS Koningsdam cruise ship, approximately 36 nautical miles north northwest of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico.

Watchstanders with Coast Guard Sector San Juan Command Center were contacted by the crew of the MS Koningsdam stating one of the passengers, who was a U.S. citizen, had sustained a head injury and needed to be taken to a hospital. The watchstanders directed the launch of a Coast Guard Air Station Borinquen MH-65 Dolphin helicopter to medevac the patient from the cruise ship.

The helicopter crew hoisted the patient and cruise ship doctor onboard and transported them to the Centro Medico Hospital in San Juan, where the patient was received by awaiting emergency medical personnel.

"The entire crew utilized our collective experience and training to accomplish this challenging mission efficiently and safely, providing rapid access to high level medical services to the critically injured passenger,” said Lt. Matthew Udkow, Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter pilot."

Coast Guard medevacs woman from cruise ship near Puerto Rico

Wed, 01/25/2017 - 12:40

The crew of a Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin rescue helicopter from Air Station Borinquen medevaced a 68-year-old woman Wednesday morning from the MS Koningsdam cruise ship near Puerto Rico. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The Coast Guard medevaced a 68-year-old woman Wednesday morning from the MS Koningsdam cruise ship, approximately 36 nautical miles north northwest of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico.

Watchstanders with Coast Guard Sector San Juan Command Center were contacted by the crew of the MS Koningsdam stating one of the passengers, who was a U.S. citizen, had sustained a head injury and needed to be taken to a hospital. The watchstanders directed the launch of a Coast Guard Air Station Borinquen MH-65 Dolphin helicopter to medevac the patient from the cruise ship.

The helicopter crew hoisted the patient and cruise ship doctor onboard and transported them to the Centro Medico Hospital in San Juan, where the patient was received by awaiting emergency medical personnel.

"The entire crew utilized our collective experience and training to accomplish this challenging mission efficiently and safely, providing rapid access to high level medical services to the critically injured passenger,” said Lt. Matthew Udkow, Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter pilot."

PHOTO RELEASE: Coast Guard, Coast Guard Auxiliary hold remembrance ceremony for fallen shipmates

Wed, 01/25/2017 - 12:36

Editor's note: click image for high-resolution

MIAMI — Coast Guard Air Station Miami hosted a memorial remembrance ceremony Wednesday at Miami Opa-Locka Executive Airport.

The annual ceremony honored those air crew members who lost their lives in the line of duty in the Miami area.

On Jan. 17, 1979, a Sikorsky HH-52A Seaguard was involved in a midair collision during their landing descent with a civilian helicopter in a takeoff climb.  Both aircraft were cleared by the tower along parallel flight paths, but were not advised of each other.  Coast Guard Lt. R.G. Ausness, Lt. R.C. Shearer Jr., Petty Officer 1st Class R.E. McClain and Petty Officer 3rd Class J.B. Case died in the collision.

On Feb. 1, 2001, Coast Guard Auxiliarists Casey Purvis and Robert Fuller were aboard a Piper PA-32 performing night intercept training with an Air Station Miami HU-25 Falcon jet crew.  During the flight, the auxiliarists entered the clouds and subsequently crashed.

PHOTO RELEASE: Coast Guard, Coast Guard Auxiliary hold remembrance ceremony for fallen shipmates

Wed, 01/25/2017 - 12:36

Editor's note: click image for high-resolution

MIAMI — Coast Guard Air Station Miami hosted a memorial remembrance ceremony Wednesday at Miami Opa-Locka Executive Airport.

The annual ceremony honored those air crew members who lost their lives in the line of duty in the Miami area.

On Jan. 17, 1979, a Sikorsky HH-52A Seaguard was involved in a midair collision during their landing descent with a civilian helicopter in a takeoff climb.  Both aircraft were cleared by the tower along parallel flight paths, but were not advised of each other.  Coast Guard Lt. R.G. Ausness, Lt. R.C. Shearer Jr., Petty Officer 1st Class R.E. McClain and Petty Officer 3rd Class J.B. Case died in the collision.

On Feb. 1, 2001, Coast Guard Auxiliarists Casey Purvis and Robert Fuller were aboard a Piper PA-32 performing night intercept training with an Air Station Miami HU-25 Falcon jet crew.  During the flight, the auxiliarists entered the clouds and subsequently crashed.

Multimedia Feature Release: Coast Guard ice rescue operations in the Northeast

Wed, 01/25/2017 - 09:56

 Click here to view and download video

Ice rescue on Lake Champlain

By Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew Barresi

Nearly every inch of skin was covered — protected from the invasive cold. Their orange and black dry suits stood in contrast to the frozen lake and distant snowcapped mountains. The team’s spiked boots scrapped and dug into the ice leaving pits and scratches on the glass-like surface. 

The bulky figures spread out, testing and inspecting the strength of the ice. Carrying long staffs, they poked the solid water seeking weak spots as they moved toward the edge of the ice shelf. They called back and forth to each other, constantly communicating and describing the surface they explored.

Approaching the edge they lowered themselves to their reflections and crawled the rest of the way to the open 36-degree water where they would spend their day training.

The crew at Coast Guard Station Burlington on Lake Champlain remains ready in all seasons for the moment they get a search and rescue call. Summers bring sinking and disabled boats, while the winter brings ice fisherman, snowmobilers, ice skaters, and ATV riders testing the limits of the frozen lake. Whatever the conditions or circumstances, the crew has a way to respond to a call for help.

“We train several times a week,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Jason Balmer, an ice rescue trainer at the station. “It’s important to be on top of you’re game — make sure you're always ready all the time.”

Balmer has been working in ice rescue since 2002 when he was an ice rescue team member at Station Erie in Pennsylvania, and then Station Niagara in New York.

On this day, Balmer oversaw the training of new ice rescue team members.

The crew has multiple ways to rescue someone who has fallen through the ice, and Balmer ran each member through the various techniques, stopping at times to explain the nuances of how to properly use the gear.

“A lot of times people panic when they fall through and just hold onto the ice shelf,” said Balmer. “The first thing we do is try to talk them out of the ice.”

Getting out of the ice on your own is known as the self-help technique and it is one of the first maneuvers ice rescue team members learn, and is useful for anyone who enjoys winter outings on frozen lakes.

It involves kicking your legs furiously as you hold onto the ice shelf causing your body to become parallel with the ice. While kicking, you attempt to crawl your arms forward pulling yourself out of the freezing waters.

“Once you get up roll away from the hole,” Balmer instructed as the trainee exited the cold water, explaining how staying low and flat distributes weight and helps to prevent falling through the ice again.

Balmer and his crew ran through several more techniques, using yellow rescue slings, rescue shuttle boards, and inflatable ice skiffs.

As they rotated techniques throughout the morning the driving winds froze gloves and gear.

“It’s good for us,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Lucas Weston, an ice rescue team member. “We learn how to deal with that, because if we’re out there for several hours looking for someone, or trying to pull someone out of the water we’ll have to deal with frozen equipment.”

“Even with all the equipment we wear we are typically only good for five or six hours, and as the temperature drops the amount of time to perform the rescue drops,” said Balmer.

After a few hours of rotating the team through different scenarios Balmer called the training complete.

The ice-caked crew piled their gear on top of the shuttle board and dragged it back to shore where it was stowed in their ice rescue truck.

Once on land they pulled off their gloves, goggles, helmets, and neoprene hoods exposing their skin to the cold and generating steam. The team was done with training for the day and that much more ready for the next call.

 

Multimedia Feature Release: Coast Guard ice rescue operations in the Northeast

Wed, 01/25/2017 - 09:56

 Click here to view and download video

Ice rescue on Lake Champlain

By Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew Barresi

Nearly every inch of skin was covered — protected from the invasive cold. Their orange and black dry suits stood in contrast to the frozen lake and distant snowcapped mountains. The team’s spiked boots scrapped and dug into the ice leaving pits and scratches on the glass-like surface. 

The bulky figures spread out, testing and inspecting the strength of the ice. Carrying long staffs, they poked the solid water seeking weak spots as they moved toward the edge of the ice shelf. They called back and forth to each other, constantly communicating and describing the surface they explored.

Approaching the edge they lowered themselves to their reflections and crawled the rest of the way to the open 36-degree water where they would spend their day training.

The crew at Coast Guard Station Burlington on Lake Champlain remains ready in all seasons for the moment they get a search and rescue call. Summers bring sinking and disabled boats, while the winter brings ice fisherman, snowmobilers, ice skaters, and ATV riders testing the limits of the frozen lake. Whatever the conditions or circumstances, the crew has a way to respond to a call for help.

“We train several times a week,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Jason Balmer, an ice rescue trainer at the station. “It’s important to be on top of you’re game — make sure you're always ready all the time.”

Balmer has been working in ice rescue since 2002 when he was an ice rescue team member at Station Erie in Pennsylvania, and then Station Niagara in New York.

On this day, Balmer oversaw the training of new ice rescue team members.

The crew has multiple ways to rescue someone who has fallen through the ice, and Balmer ran each member through the various techniques, stopping at times to explain the nuances of how to properly use the gear.

“A lot of times people panic when they fall through and just hold onto the ice shelf,” said Balmer. “The first thing we do is try to talk them out of the ice.”

Getting out of the ice on your own is known as the self-help technique and it is one of the first maneuvers ice rescue team members learn, and is useful for anyone who enjoys winter outings on frozen lakes.

It involves kicking your legs furiously as you hold onto the ice shelf causing your body to become parallel with the ice. While kicking, you attempt to crawl your arms forward pulling yourself out of the freezing waters.

“Once you get up roll away from the hole,” Balmer instructed as the trainee exited the cold water, explaining how staying low and flat distributes weight and helps to prevent falling through the ice again.

Balmer and his crew ran through several more techniques, using yellow rescue slings, rescue shuttle boards, and inflatable ice skiffs.

As they rotated techniques throughout the morning the driving winds froze gloves and gear.

“It’s good for us,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Lucas Weston, an ice rescue team member. “We learn how to deal with that, because if we’re out there for several hours looking for someone, or trying to pull someone out of the water we’ll have to deal with frozen equipment.”

“Even with all the equipment we wear we are typically only good for five or six hours, and as the temperature drops the amount of time to perform the rescue drops,” said Balmer.

After a few hours of rotating the team through different scenarios Balmer called the training complete.

The ice-caked crew piled their gear on top of the shuttle board and dragged it back to shore where it was stowed in their ice rescue truck.

Once on land they pulled off their gloves, goggles, helmets, and neoprene hoods exposing their skin to the cold and generating steam. The team was done with training for the day and that much more ready for the next call.

 

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