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Inside Marine 19: How officials respond to water emergencies

Emily Ness
Created: August 22, 2020 06:40 PM

Living on the largest body of fresh water in the world comes with its fair share of advantages. And, before the turn of the season, many are making the most of Lake Superior.

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But, as the air grows colder and the sun fades away, the waters can be especially dangerous —leading to emergencies. This is why officials are cautioning the public to be safe as they soak up the last of the summer sun.

Over time, crews tell WDIO that their response to water emergencies has evolved greatly. A big part of this is because of their flag system, their Park Point beach website and Marine 19.

“Having the boat and the ability to go into rougher waters gives us the ability to go in search and rescue is probably our biggest use for it,” Christopher Orman, firefighter said.

Marine 19– tasked with saving those in distress – is named after the 19 Duluth fire fighters who died in the line of duty since the department’s inception in 1870. It was obtained by the department in 2019.

“We’ve always had the need to have a stable reliable watercraft so that we can get to and from patients or boats,” Orman said.

Crews say part of saving lives involves preventing water emergencies in the first place. One way they do this is through their flag system – originally proposed by Assistant Fire Chief Brent Consie in 2010.

“As a newer captain, I had traveled quite a bit to the coast—the East and West coast and you can see there’s beach flags that are out there and I had proposed it to the administration,” Consie said.

Today, the flags fly high June through October every year. Green means swimming conditions are good, yellow means swimming conditions are less than ideal and red means swimming is a no-go. Lifeguards say the flag system has made their job easier.

“I think that having the flags has really raised an awareness in the community of what the lake is doing,” Cheryl Podtburg, Aquatics Safety Coordinator for the Duluth Area YMCA said. “I do think that people are making different choices now than they were ten years ago based on what they lake is doing and I’m hopeful that the flags are a huge part of that.”

Another way crews work to prevent water emergencies is through the Park Point beach website – designed in partnership with the University of Minnesota’s Sea Grant program.

“We’re pulling information that the weather service provides on the weather conditions, on the rip current risk,” Jesse Schomberg, Associate Director for Outreach said. “We want to see zero drownings. That’s our goal.”

That goal was heightened in August 2017 when a father and daughter visiting Duluth drowned in Lake Superior while swimming on Park Point.

“We’ve been working with hotels in this area to get the information out to their guests,” Schomberg said. “We also put a billboard up along I-35 for the folks heading North—advertising our Park Point Beach website.”

This year, crews have responded to 24 water emergencies – four less than last year when they responded to 28, but they anticipate there will be more. As a result, they are asking the public to check the Park Point beach website ahead of time, abide by red flag warnings and use caution.

Credits

Emily Ness

Copyright 2020 WDIO-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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