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First responders conduct ice rescue exercise on Little Traverse Bay

The Coast Guard helicopter was flown in to airlift passengers needing immediate medical assistance.{ }{p}{/p}
The Coast Guard helicopter was flown in to airlift passengers needing immediate medical assistance.

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EMMET COUNTY, Mich., (WPBN/WGTU) -- It's a crisis that no one wants to prepare for, but first responders in areas around Petoskey need to be ready for anything.

"The goal of the exercise is readiness," said Steve Keck, Chief of Emergency Management. "It's as simple as that."

Local police, fire departments and other agencies joined the Sault Ste. Marie Coast Guard sector for an ice mass rescue exercise operation named, "45 North." Keck said it took over six months to coordinate and plan the operation.

"We try to identify the areas where we might have actual worst-case scenarios," said Keck. "When you look at Petoskey for a mass casualty incident, there might be an aircraft going in or out of Pellston."

The scenario involved the crash of a commuter aircraft. Upon its impact, the goal of first responders was to safely rescue and address the medical needs of three crew members and 37 passengers. The burning debris from the simulated plane crash on the water and fleet of emergency vehicles attracted the attention of the public.

"This is their local responders in conjunction with the Coast Guard, working through a real situation," said Captain Anthony Jones, a Sault Ste. Marie Coast Guard Sector Commander. "It's critical that we get together as a team and practice this on a regular occasion so that when Heaven forbid this happens for real, we'd be able to get out there and get right to doing the mission."

The teamwork did not come from only humans. Crisis response dogs were on site to provide comfort and encouragement.

"The dogs help with stress reduction of people who are involved in the actual exercise because sometimes their stress levels even at a drill do increase," said Connie Peterson, a representative for HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response. "Everybody enjoys coming over and spending some time with the dogs it really does help lower their stress. Sometimes at our exercises, there may be victims or families involved, so we can also provide comfort to them while they're here."

Even though props were used to represent passengers needing rescue, Capt. Jones put himself in the action by catching a ride with the Coast Guard helicopter after being "rescued" from the water.

"I do that to try to show the folks that it's important to get to these exercises," said Capt. Jones. "Be a part of it and make those relationships because that's really what's going to help us out in the real situation."

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The Coast Guard plans to conduct more exercises like the ice rescue in the future.

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