by Dan Colton
for The Beacon
Six Sheboygan Fire Department members are training to rescue victims from Lake Michigan.
According to SFD Batallion Chief Jeff Salzman, the rescue swim training was organized after the department recognized it lacked water-rescue capabilities. He said that caused the department to reach out to Ocean Rescue Systems in Portland, Maine, a company with experience in aquatic environments similar to those found at Sheboygan’s main swimming holes like North Beach and the pier.
“This is bridging a gap that we had,” Salzman said.
The week of training began the week of July 20 and was expected to last four days. On Tuesday, the fire department and Sheriff’s Department held a joint training session at night, utilizing the Sheriff Department’s rescue boat.
The swimmers got into the water off the north side of the pier.
Salzman said the main objective of the training was to acclimate rescue swimmers with techniques to safely transport a victim out of the water and into a boat. He said the training is especially important these days as he believes boating and swimming has seen an uptick during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While he didn’t have specific numbers to cite the frequency of water rescues on the lake, Salzman said it can be a yearly issue. Just a few weeks ago, Salzman said a 10-year-old boy was pulled from the water near King Park on Sheboygan’s south side. According to Salzman, the boy was saved by a bystander, but he said the fire department needs to be able to respond to the calls as well.
Water rescues are necessary even during the winter, Salzman said – surfers have gotten trapped in the rocks that line the pier and were unable to free themselves, so rescuers have needed to brave the ice and cold of Lake Michigan in the winter.
Previously, Salzman said the department utilized the “reach, throw, row, go” method of rescue using a throw rope. Now, however, Salzman said rescuers are being trained to get into the water with a victim.
“We’re practicing on getting out to a patient in distress, and from that point, either pulling them out to the boat or bringing them back onto the beach,” Salzman said.
That means the rescuer requires more training for their safety and the safety of a victim.
“The rescuer is already in the water with them, so the potential for injury to the rescuer is greater,” Salzman said.
Salzman said the fire department will work closely with the sheriff’s department and hopes to create a relationship with the Coast Guard, which has a base and rescue capabilites on the lake in Sheboygan. Salzman said working with other area responders increases the fire department’s effectiveness and capabilities.
According to Salzman, the training cost of $6,455 came from the department’s budget. He said the department hopes to secure additional funding for the surf-rescue effort.
“We are looking for supporters for this,” Salzman said.