Extra gear helps South Haven crews shave time off beach response

Southwest Michigan

SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — As the summer heats up and the Fourth of July holiday approaches, more and more people are heading to the beach, making water safety the top priority for first responders along the lakeshore.

In South Haven, a donation from a local company could help cut down on emergency response times. South Haven Area Emergency Services firefighters have been outfitted with water rescue equipment they can keep in their personal vehicles.

A number of South Haven firefighters are part-time and respond to calls from work or home.

“I respond to the scene. I don’t come here and hop on truck,” firefighter Will Brennen explained.

So he’s taking work home with him. Along with his fire coat, helmet and medical gear, Brennen and other 18 paid on-call firefighters now carry a life vest, helmet and 50 feet of rescue rope.

“Before anyone goes in the water, they put on their flotation device, their helmet and we’re supposed to be tied off to the shore,” Brennen said.

So far this year, South Haven firefighters have been called out to at least four water rescues on Lake Michigan and some of the inland lakes in the surrounding area. One person has died.

“Every second you’re underwater, not breathing, that’s another second where you’re unlikely to come back up,” Brennen said.

Firefighters have increased water rescue training, and SHAES Chief Brandon Hinz hopes providing the additional rescue gear to the on-call crews will narrow the gap between the time a person goes under and when a first responders arrives.

“Because at any given time there might be one (a firefighter) at the beach. And we’ve had that happen this year. … One of our paid on-calls was already in the area and was able to get his eyes on some kayakers that had had some issues out on the lake,” Hinz said.

The other upside to the added gear is that it didn’t cost taxpayers a dime.

“Local company Albemarle gave us a grant to help our community,” Hinz said.

The grant from the pharmaceutical manufacturer totaled $7,500, with about $3,000 going toward the purchase of the additional water rescue gear. The remainder of the grant will be used to buy bikes for department paramedics and EMTs for a quicker response to the crowded beach and downtown during the summer months.

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