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Hovercraft helps North Muskegon firefighters save time in emergency rescue situations

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Posted at 10:46 AM, Jan 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-27 10:59:31-05

MUSKEGON, Mich. — Every minute matters in an emergency. Add ice and dangerously cold water, and the timeline to save someone becomes even smaller.

Unfortunately, in West Michigan, it’s not unusual when an individual finds themselves trapped on the open water while ice fishing.

Recently, in Muskegon, it was a hovercraft that made a common occurrence a story of survival.

“I know, a barge came through earlier the day earlier in the week,'' North Muskegon Fire Chief David Ogren said, “And so a chunk broke off from that side of the lake, and just with the wind blew him over towards the channel,” he added.

Just last week, the department made its first rescue via hovercraft this season.

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It's a tool Chief Ogren says cuts down on the crucial time it takes to get to a victim.

“It's the matter of life and death,” Ogren said. “When people are in the water, there's not a lot of time for hypothermia.”

And in this case, the hovercraft shaved off about 30 minutes just to reach the victim by foot.

“He was on an island of ice, and so having to swim would have been very difficult.”

On this day, Chief Ogren takes me for a spin, describing the process to get an individual to shore.

He tells me it’s a two-man job. The rescuer dressed head to toe in protective gear, ready to wade in the water if need be. The hovercraft flies in at speeds up to 65 miles per hour to about 50 feet away from the victim. The rescuer then gets out and makes contact with the individual, hooking them up to a rope or a life jacket. The pilot will then make their way closer to pick the victim up.

“We’ll actually leave you (the rescuer) and take the victim back to shore,” Ogren said. “We just want to make sure to get the victim back to shore as quickly as possible- minutes matter.”

Minutes that this fire department depends on come winter.

Chief Ogren says the department gets the most calls for water rescues at the start of and end of winter when the ice isn’t fully formed just yet.