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Beachfront safety is serious business

July 27, 2012
By ADELLE WHITEFOOT - Journal Staff Writer ( , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE - After a deadly summer in 2010, in which four people drowned off Marquette shorelines, the city has put in place many safety features to help prevent more deaths.

The Waterfront Safety Task Force was created in August 2010 to come up with a recommendation to help make the beaches in Marquette safer for the public.

Since the plan was put into action last summer there has yet to be a death by drowning. Marquette City Fire Department Chief Tom Belt said he thinks that many of the safety changes made have been a big factor in preventing deaths from occurring.

Article Photos

“Danger, No Swimming” buoys are placed in areas that are not safe for swimming at any time. Many buoys like this are posted at Picnic Rocks off Marquette, which is considered a dangerous area due to rip currents. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)

"Since those recommendations were put in place we did modify a little bit," Belt said. "We made some minor modifications in the way we deploy lifeguards and we added one additional life saving ring station over where the new boardwalk is at Founders Landing."

Belt said a lot of the prevention of death have not only come from the safety features put in place at the beach but also the education awareness component of the plan.

According to Belt, they had many partners to help out, ranging from Northern Michigan University to the YMCA to the Marquette Senior High School.

"Teachers and people in all of those organizations have really done a bang up job of educating the students," Belt said. "The Y is teaching people to swim, Northern is educating the students and their parents in their orientation sessions and they are also creating a lot of material for the students that raises their awareness of the dangers of the various dangerous currents we have off of Marquette."

Because of the dangerous rip currents at Picnic Rocks, a jet ski was bought for the lifeguards at the north station of McCarty's Cove to prevent swimmers from trying to swim or wade out to the rocks, Belt said.

"The lifeguards have interjected people that are going out to the rocks over 50 times this season," Belt said. "The lifeguards are able to get out to them quickly on the (personal watercraft) and get the people turned around and headed back to shore. It's turned out to be really effective."

Head lifeguard Christina Moffett said she thinks the personal watercraft is one of the most used pieces of equipment that the lifeguards have and saves a lot of time.

"The amount of time to go (toward Picnic Rocks) running is considerably longer than it is to just whip over there on the (personal watercraft)," Moffett said. "We intercept between one and 10 people a day headed out to the rocks."

All lifeguards had a week of training on how to properly use the jet ski to intercept people and to save people who are drowning.

Looking into next year, there are some new additions that may be put in place, Belt said.

"We are looking at putting an additional guard stand in place at McCarty's Cove, which would go between the two stands that are currently there," Belt said.

The fire department is also looking into upgrading the communication equipment at the lifeguard station, Belt said. Right now, lifeguards have a fire department radio and cell phones to call in for help.

"What we would like to do is get some combination radios for them for next year, where they have not only a fire department channel but also a Coast Guard channel too," Belt said. "So not only will they be able to listen, but they would be able to interface with us on a rescue that needs to be done or if there is some sort of an emergency at at the beach."

According to Belt, having these combination radios for the lifeguards will allow them to hear if a page goes out.

"Also, if we use the lifeguards to assist us in an emergency that's on the water we will be able to integrate them into our command structure and more easily communicate with them," Belt said.

Moffett said having these radios will also allow for the lifeguards to hear the weather reports come across. Right now, Moffett checks the radar then goes and tell the lifeguards what it looks like.

"Having those radios will cut out the middleman and make things a lot easier," Moffett said.

The fire department was put in charge of the lifeguards and waterfront safety by city management last February, Belt said.

"We are so active with everything else and I was the liaison for the Waterfront Safety Task Force, so it just seemed like a natural place to centralize everything," Belt said.

Adelle Whitefoot can be reached at 906-228-2500.



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