Water safety

Marquette County leaders hope for safe summer


Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE –It has been almost two years since a 22-year-old Northern Michigan University student and the young Wisconsin man who was trying to save her died in the deceptively dangerous waters at Little Presque Isle.

Justin Schroepfer, 24, of Rhinelander, Wisconsin, drowned off Little Presque Isle beach when he tried to save Kaylilyn Tansey of Grand Ledge. Tansey was in the water and in distress along with a friend from Marquette who was able to float to calmer waters and survived.

The tragic story is not an isolated incident, but it illuminated the need to educate the public about waterfront safety.

The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project has documented 640 drownings in the big lakes alone since 2010, with 17 drownings noted since the beginning of 2018.

One of the worst years on record was 2016, the GLSRP website states, with 99 people drowning in Great Lakes waters.

In an effort to bring awareness to the potential hazards associated with water recreation, three Marquette County municipalities along Lake Superior shoreline enacted proclamations honoring National Beach Safety Week, which started May 21 and will wrap up on Monday.

Resolutions adopted individually by the city of Marquette, Marquette Township and Chocolay Township include a mutual aid agreement between the three fire departments which provide water rescue services within their borders.

The municipalities have resolved “to support each other should a water rescue emergency happen within any of our areas,” the Chocolay Township resolution states.

Marquette Waterfront Safety Task Force member Eric Smith said the efforts toward mutual aid are important, but more needs to be done to educate the public on how to avoid taking risks when engaging in waterfront recreation.

“It should come as no surprise that drownings or accidents occur when people drop their guard, in part, because the splendor of our lakes and rivers often lull water sport enthusiasts into a false sense of security,” Smith said. “People who understand this automatically push ‘safety first’ higher on their priority list, which lowers the possibility that tragedy will strike when enjoying a day at the waterfront.”

Smith said staying in control during a day at the waterfront is key.

“Any recreational activity comes with some degree of risk, but it’s up to individuals to minimize those risks by monitoring weather and wave conditions, using appropriate safety equipment, knowing how to swim and in some cases making the decision to switch activities if conditions are simply not right for being in the water,” Smith said. “Many of Marquette’s popular beaches have life guards, life jacket loaner stations and basic rescue equipment. Frequenting waterfronts with these resources minimizes risk and improves safety. Staying in control is really about empowering people to make good decisions based on their own skills and experience when enjoying a day at the beach.”

Other tips offered by the municipal proclamations include: learn to swim; swim with a buddy; use sunscreen and drink water; obey posted signs; keep the beach and water clean; learn rip current safety; enter water feet first; and wear a life jacket.

If you find yourself in distress in the water, the GLSRP recommends the Flip, Float and Follow survival strategy.

First, flip over onto your back and float keeping your head above water, the website states. Use floating, the second element of the strategy, to calm yourself down from the panic and fear of drowning as well as conserve your energy. The third element is to follow the safest path to safety.

“Never swim against the current, assess which way it is pulling you,” the website states. “Then swim perpendicular to the current’s flow until you are out of it and then swim to shore.”

Dave Benjamin, executive director of public relations for GLSRP, said the other thing to be concerned about is water temperature.

“Some articles I have read say that hypothermia can kill you within minutes. That is just not true,” Benjamin said.

He said the hypothermia gasp reflex, which is an autonomic reflex in response to rapid skin cooling, is more likely to cause death due to the individual’s head going under water and liquid being breathed into the lungs during the gasp.

This situation can be avoided by using a life jacket or personal flotation device, which helps keep your head above water during the first few seconds of immersion.

Benjamin said the 1-10-1 principle should be used during cold water immersion.

“You have one minute to get your breathing under control, 10 minutes of meaningful movement and less than one hour before hypothermia can lead to a life-threatening situation,” Benjamin said.

Smith said communities that make education about beach and waterfront safety a priority can mean the difference between life and death.

“Not only are water safety programs helpful in saving lives, they also help reduce the risks emergency responders face when called to help people facing life-threatening situations,” he said. “It’s a lot more fun to be safe than it is to be sorry.”

For more information on beach safety visit the city of Marquette website, www.marquettemi.gov/departments/fire/waterfront-safety/, or the Marquette National Weather Service office at www.weather.gov/mqt, which provides up-to-date weather data along with information about rip current conditions and tips for water safety. Readers of The Mining Journal can also look for a reminder on the masthead of the publication daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is lbowers@miningjournal.net.