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‘It’s better to be preventative than to be reactive:’ Water Rescue expert says stay off ice on Lake Michigan

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Posted at 6:46 PM, Jan 31, 2022

GRAND HAVEN, Mich. — The waves on Lake Michigan were calm on Monday afternoon. However, due to the snowstorm over the last few weeks, large ice shelves have formed along the lakeshore. Several people were on the beach taking pictures of it.

The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project (GLSRP) said that’s exactly where people should be and not a step closer to the water.

“I was looking at the webcams this morning in South Haven and it looked like there were parents taking children out on the pier,” said Dave Benjamin of the GLSRP during a Zoom interview. “You wouldn’t take your children sprinting across the highway. Why are you taking them out on this icy pier because if one thing goes wrong there’s really no recourse to it.”

Benjamin, who is the co-founder of the GLSRP, said there may be currents under the ice shelves, making them unstable.

So, he said it’s best to stay off of them and the piers along Lake Michigan. Should someone fall in, they only have a matter of minutes to get out.

“If somebody goes in the water and they go underwater, and they have this hyperventilation gas reflex they’re going to inhale water instantly,” Benjamin said. “So, the 1-10-1 rule again starts off, you have one minute to control your breathing, you have 10 minutes of meaningful movement and less than one hour until hypothermia fully sets in and kills you.”

He said it can be difficult for people to rescue them. They need a floatation device or a rope to pull them to shore.

“We don’t want to put first responders at risk by having these easily preventable measures taken to keep people off the piers and off the ice shelves along these populated lake fronts,” Benjamin said. “In addition when a drowning happens or when a water emergency is happening bystanders often become would-be rescuers and often become in trouble as well. So, now you’re looking at multiple victims possibly.”

Benjamin suggested leaving the rescuing to the professionals, and for beachgoers to stay off the water, ice, snow, piers, and abide by the safety signs on the beach.

“Some beaches do have that but very few actually have the updated beach signage. So, that’s something that should be out there,” Benjamin said. “Why not have first responders patrolling, warning people to stay off the ice shelves? You know, additional signage. It’s better to be preventative than to be reactive and risking your life to try to save someone else’s life.”