Ice rescue hits the road

Ice Training

BARROW, Alaska – Mike Hudson, the ice rescue program manager for Coast Guard District 9, Petty Officer 1st Class James Collins, a boatswain’s mate with Station/Aids-to-Navigation Team Saginaw River, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan Sayers, the lead ice instructor for STANT Saginaw River, observe as two Barrow search and rescue workers perform ice-rescue techniques in the Barrow High School pool April 6, 2012. Coast Guard District 9 ice-rescue personnel travelled to Barrow and Nome to cross train with local search and rescue agencies. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst.

BARROW, Alaska – Four Coast Guardsmen step off a plane in Barrow, thousands of miles from their home near the Great Lakes. Snow blows over a frozen runway, and the sub-zero Arctic wind cuts through all but the thickest clothing. They are no strangers to cold, but this is not their idea of April weather.

What brought these Coast Guard 9th District representatives all the way to the top of the world?  The answer rests in something the Great Lakes and the Arctic Ocean have in common: ice.

Station/Aids to Navigation Team Saginaw River, located on the shore of Lake Huron in Michigan, is home to the Coast Guard’s Ice Capability Center of Excellence. When David Borg, of the Coast Guard 17th District’s prevention division in Juneau, approached the 9th District with the opportunity to cross train in Alaska’s North Slope Borough, they jumped at the idea.

“We were invited by the 17th District to participate in the visit of the three largest Arctic communities: Kotzebue, Nome and Barrow,” said Mike Hudson, the ice rescue program manager for the 9th District. “The opportunity was a great way to exchange information.”

Although the trip to Kotzebue had to be cancelled, an exchange of information is exactly what happened in Nome and Barrow.

“We’re in Barrow to show ice rescue techniques to some of the local law enforcement and emergency service agencies,” said Master Chief Petty Officer Gerald Backus, the officer-in-charge of STANT Saginaw River. “But, we’re also here to learn some of their techniques, from a culture that has survived some of the harshest conditions on the earth.”

The ice training, part of the larger Arctic Shield 2012 outreach mission, brought fresh perspectives to the local search and rescue teams, who in turn showed the visiting Coast Guardsmen some of the challenges that come with working in the extremely high latitude.  Rescue gear made for working on the Great Lakes is not always perfect for Arctic conditions.

“It was a learning curve for everybody because we’ve never trained with any other departments as much as we have the last couple days,” said Lloyd Kanayurak, of the North Slope Borough Fire Department. “So it helped out, actually, pretty well just to see all the organizations come together.”

Kanayurak also said he would like to see the Coast Guard return when conditions outside are more conducive to training, as this visit was limited to working from the Barrow High School pool.

As the 9th District ice experts travel back home, they return with a renewed assurance in their techniques.

“It’s given me confidence to know that the techniques we use are utilized in the same, or more harsh, environments,” said Backus. “All-in-all it has been a well-rounded learning experience.”

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