Fire departments work together, train together

About 15 members of Onekama, Bear Lake, Arcadia and Frankfort fire departments, along with the U.S. Coast Guard Manistee Station, took part in ice rescue training on Sunday morning on Portage Lake. (Michelle Graves/News Advocate)

About 15 members of Onekama, Bear Lake, Arcadia and Frankfort fire departments, along with the U.S. Coast Guard Manistee Station, took part in ice rescue training on Sunday morning on Portage Lake. (Michelle Graves/News Advocate)

ONEKAMA — The threat for an actual ice rescue is low this time if year, but that makes it the perfect time for training.

About 15 members of the Onekama, Bear Lake, Arcadia and Frankfort fire departments, along with members of the U.S. Coast Guard Manistee Station, took part in ice rescue training on Sunday morning on Portage Lake.

The Onekama Fire Department hosted the training, which is something that is done at least once a year.

Kaitlin Kubiskey (right), of the Onekama Fire Department, practices an ice rescue technique on Sunday on Portage Lake. (Michelle Graves/News Advocate)

Kaitlin Kubiskey (right), of the Onekama Fire Department, practices an ice rescue technique on Sunday on Portage Lake. (Michelle Graves/News Advocate)

“With Portage Lake being one of the biggest and busiest ice fishing lakes, we feel it’s pretty important to have some ice rescue equipment and be well trained on it,” said Rob Johnson, Onekama Fire Department assistant chief.

He said the ice is pretty good right now, but closer to spring is when the department starts getting calls.

“When people feel like they have to go out one more time to fish, that’s when they fall through,” Johnson said. “We probably average two rescues a year on Portage Lake. Last year we had three rescues out there for people through the ice.”

One of the things rescuers worry about on Portage Lake is the flowing springs, he said.

“We have a lot of them. Typically it’s not an issue in the middle of the winter, like right now. But come springtime, early spring March or April, the springs erode the ice pretty quick. You’ll have pockets of really thin ice and really thick ice,” he said.

The assistant chief said that a place across from Portage Point Inn, called Andy’s Point, is their most popular spot for ice rescues.

“They’re normally 500-600 yards offshore,” said Johnson. “In most instances you have an address or location to go to, corner of Eight Mile and 31 (for example), with ice rescue you don’t necessarily have a very good (location), you have to know your access points. Ninety percent

The U.S. Coast Guard Station Manistee took the lead on training on Sunday, showing members of four area fire departmeents how to use an ice rescue board. (Michelle Graves/News Advocate)

The U.S. Coast Guard Station Manistee took the lead on training on Sunday, showing members of four area fire departmeents how to use an ice rescue board. (Michelle Graves/News Advocate)

of our ice rescues are off that Andy’s Point.”

On Sunday, the Coast Guard took the lead in the training, showing the members of the fire departments how to use the ice rescue board and other equipment.

“(The Coast Guard) has the most practice with that board. They’ve had one the longest,” said Lawrence Hrachovina, Onekama Fire Department chief. “They practice (multiple) times a week. We just received it two weeks ago, so we’re really new. We’re really looking to them for hands-on experience and going through with our personnel and showing us what we should be doing and what we shouldn’t be doing.”

The Onekama Fire Department recently purchased the nearly $3,000 board, thanks to a grant from the Manistee County Revenue Sharing Board.

“We’ll have one or two people in the water, and we’ll have teams that will go out and exercise with this new board that we got,” said Johnson. “That’s really what we’re pushing — to train with the new equipment. The Coast Guard uses that same style so they train us in how to use it. It has a lot of neat things for just a board. It has a pulley system on it.”

Another reason for training is that the departments are often called out to the same scenes.

Members of area Onekama, Arcadia, Bear Lake and Frankfort fire departments practice "self rescue" on Sunday on Portage Lake during training. (Michelle Graves/News Advocate)

Members of area Onekama, Arcadia, Bear Lake and Frankfort fire departments practice “self rescue” on Sunday on Portage Lake during training. (Michelle Graves/News Advocate)

“With the communities being so short-handed during the day, (we like to) get everybody working together and learning everybody’s techniques,” said Hrachovina. “It’s just to get everybody familiarized, and being surrounded with water we’re going to have (some situation). We need all hands to be able to do everything.”

Johnson said that many smaller volunteer departments are run on skeleton crews, and the Onekama department works closely with the Arcadia, Bear Lake and Manistee Township departments due to their proximity.

“What we’re finding is that it’s better to have multiple departments called out to the same scene,” he said, adding that training can’t be done during a real rescue situation.

“So we like to train together — and we do that on all levels: fire, rescue. When we roll onto their scene, they’re familiar with us, they’re familiar with where our equipment is on our truck and vice versa. It’s kind of like just having one big department with a couple places to keep the equipment, so to speak. We find that the more training you do together, the more comfortable you are with each other and know what they’re going to bring and what they’re going to be able to do when they get there.”

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Posted by Michelle Graves

Michelle is the managing editor of the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach her at (231) 398-3106 or mgraves@pioneergroup.com.

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