During the media coverage following Hurricane Katrina and to a lesser extent Rita, the world had the opportunity to witness a variety of in-water rescue efforts during those catastrophes.
The U.S. Coast Guard worked hard to rescue thousands of forsaken victims and it was clear to see that this branch of the military is an intensely prepared organization.
In affiliation with the Coast Guard, the Coast Guard Auxiliary plays a significant role in maintaining safety within the parameters of a given community.
Here in Marina del Rey, the Coast Guard Auxiliary can often be seen offering free boat inspections, but behind the scenes this group has recently been making a substantial contribution in the area of rescue training.
Coast Guard Auxiliary “qualified examiner” and lifelong boater Jeff Pielet has been the engine behind a new and innovative training program that utilizes life-sized mannequins fitted with weights to provide a more accurate approximate human subject in man overboard exercises.
For years, Pielet tried to procure funding to actualize his concept, but was perpetually thwarted and the project was left on hold.
Eventually, BoatUS (Boat Owners Association of the United States) saw the civic value of the project and contributed enough money to get it under way.
On a shoestring budget, the mannequins were created and they have since been enthusiastically received by all of the local rescue-oriented authorities.
“It took five years [to get it funded],” said Pielet. “This is the second year of the program and we improve it each time we work with it. We get feedback from the other organizations and try to make the process better.
“Our whole goal is to increase the speed, efficiency and reliability [of rescues], so our crews can effectively pick up a person in the water as fast as possible and if there’s a medical situation, they can assess what to do.”
Part of the training involves each mannequin carrying an envelope describing a certain medical condition.
Once the mannequin is lifted from the water onto the boat, the rescuer is challenged to properly administer the appropriate treatment for the condition described.
During the rescue itself, the challenge revolves around the stiff and cumbersome lifeless form of the imitation drownee.
“It really gives the feel of pulling out a full-sized person who’s not helping you,” said Coast Guard Auxiliary rear commodore Eric DeCuir.
“One of the most difficult exercises, that was such an eye opener to our members, was when we went out one night and threw three of the mannequins out in the Santa Monica Bay.
“We told a few of our search-and-rescue vessels to go find them. These boats had a hard time trying to locate the mannequins. It really increases the realism by one hundred percent.”
This past Sunday, as a part of Discover Marina del Rey Day in Burton Chace Park, the County Fire Department, Baywatch and the Coast Guard Auxiliary conducted a man overboard demonstration in the main channel utilizing the mannequins.
Spectators lined the edge of the park to witness the high-paced mock emergency where lifeguards dove and rescued what — from a distance — looked like real people.
“It went off without a hitch and we all had a lot of fun doing it,” said Pielet. “It went very, very well.
“It becomes more satisfying each time I see the mannequins at work. They’re helping to make our people better equipped to handle situations out there, because that’s what we do.”
The Coast Guard Auxiliary is very pleased with how its development is being received and utilized by the other local agencies and hopes that in time, the mannequins will be standard equipment all over the nation for training in saving lives.
“We’ve had nothing but positive reactions from them,” said Pielet of the outside reaction. “They have said that it makes an awful lot of sense to them.”
Regarding the future of the program Pielet says, “How can we make it better? That’s my concern now.
“We’re getting ready to start training other people so we can eventually have a full staff of auxiliarists who will be working with me on this. We’re just trying to make our people as best trained as they can be.”