PORTAGE, Mich. (WOOD) — The Kalamazoo County dive team held a training Wednesday night with firefighters from the Portage Department of Public Safety.
The rescue and recovery crews hope their assistance will not be needed and they can prevent tragedies by teaching the community more about water safety.
Mike Phelps, the division chief for the Portage Public Safety Fire Division, said every second counts when it comes to a water emergency.
“We have a number of minutes to bring them up before they become brain dead. Usually after the brain loses oxygen you’ve got about 10 minutes, four to 10 minutes, depending on the water temperature,” Phelps said.
In a training on West Lake in Portage, crews practiced removing someone from the water.
Gary Townsend, the dive team coordinator, said when they are called in survival is not likely.
“We have had in the area over the years, we’ve had … very few situations where the victim was recovered and was brought back,” Townsend said.
Townsend is the coordinator for the Kalamazoo County Dive Team and Recovery Association. He has been a scuba diver for 60 years. The team of volunteers he works with responds to assist firefighters throughout the area.
“It’s a skill I have that relates to this activity of recovery and I have an obligation to the community,” Townsend said.
Some of the most important tips they recommend are wearing lifejackets, having throwable rings or other items that float and designating a water watcher to always having someone looking for the signs of drowning, which can be tough to see.
“Drowning is a silent event because the person is trying to breathe and they’ve got their mouth up and they’re trying to breathe, they’re trying to breathe, they can’t vocalize and so you need to be observant,” Townsend said.
While the training focused on inland waterway, the rescue crews are reminding people of the additional safety concerns when swimming on Great Lakes beaches.
“Other than tides they act the same as an inland ocean,” Townsend said.
If you get caught in a rip current, they say you should swim parallel to shore and try and get around the current not going against it.