South Haven beach safety flag program ends, SHAES had no rescues

Van Buren County

SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — The South Haven Area Emergency Services said its team went the entire season without having to make a water rescue.

The beach safety flag program in South Haven ended for the year on Sunday.

Flags at the beach in South Haven are normally flown from May 15 through Sept. 15. The program was extended this year through Sept. 26 due to additional funding from the city.

SHAES said there were three drownings at the beach in 2020. This year, SHAES said it emphasized improving communication to the public about water conditions.

A beach committee consisting of citizens made recommendations. Some of those recommendations were implemented this year and others are under consideration for the future.

Dawn Hinz, a firefighter and paramedic with the department, says engaging more directly with the community seemed to make the biggest impact.

“The biggest change was instead of the beach attendants just putting up the flag and walking away, they would take out pamphlets and they would go to people on the beach,” Hinz said.

Hinz says having no rescues is rare for the department, especially in recent years.

“I can’t remember another year off the top of my head where we went with zero rescues,” Hinz said.

According to statistics from the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, 56 people were confirmed to have drowned in Lake Michigan in 2020 and 38 people have drowned in the lake up to this point in 2021.

SHAES now has the capability to provide help from the air if a rescue is needed.

“We’ve added a drone that has the capability of dropping floatation directly to a distressed swimmer. So, if you have somebody who has been pulled out by a rip current, it would still take rescuers several minutes to swim out to them. This drone can be over them in a matter of minutes,” Hinz said.

Text alerts are also available to provide updates on water conditions to subscribers. While rescuers are grateful to have no water rescues, they know the work is never over.

“It doesn’t mean our watch is over. We could have a water rescue in October, November, all the way through the year. It doesn’t have any seasonal limitations, especially with people liking to walk out on the pier when waves are washing over. That’s still a huge danger. They could easily be washed in,” Hinz said.

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