Coast Guardsmen often find themselves in a position to rescue others. It usually happens on a boat or from the air, but two weeks ago our three Guardians of the Week, Petty Officers 2nd Class Chris Summers and Kevin Ray and Seaman Reginald Edwards, found themselves in a more unusual circumstance.
Station Wilmette Harbor is tucked in a quiet nook along the coast of Lake Michigan near Chicago. This time of year the docks are silent and the grove of trees that surround the station eliminate the sounds of all but the lake lapping against the seawall. It was 1 a.m. on Feb. 21 when Edwards was getting ready to go to bed and that silence was pierced by cries for help coming from outside the station. He woke the ready crews and called 911.
As the crew prepared for a potential ice rescue Summers and Ray ran down to the dock, still in pajamas, to investigate the situation.
“It was eerie, ” said Summers who couldn’t see the source of the sound until he was standing at the edge of the seawall where he found the female victim hanging onto a tire chained to the concrete beneath him. “You could tell she was getting weaker,” he said. They knew they had to act fast.
Putting himself in harms way, Summers went to his stomach and Ray lowered him by his feet until he could reach the victim. As the 35-degree water sapped her strength Summers and Ray found it harder and harder to move her.
“Neither one of us are big. I’m only 160 pounds,” said Edwards. With every inch they raised her they were helped less by the buoyancy of the water and bore more of her weight and the weight of the water soaked up by her clothes.
Inch by inch they pulled until Summers’ body was far enough on the shore to bear the weight by himself for a second while Ray threw himself to the ground and grabbed one of her hands. Progress was still slow with both pulling as the cold began to take its toll on their strength too.
“We got to a point were we just weren’t moving her,” said Summers, “but we kept pulling and after a few minutes we got her up.” The frozen heroes wrapped her in some of their clothes and got her into a hypothermia capsule while they waited for an ambulance to arrive.
Edward’s keen awareness and Summers and Ray’s brave decision to attempt a rescue from the seawall saved the victim’s life. By being prepared for the unexpected these three didn’t just uphold the Coast Guard’s core values, they surpassed them. Well done shipmates!
Do you know someone in the Coast Guard that has done something great for the service, the missions or the public? Please submit your nominations for Guardian of the Week using the submit button at the top of the page.