What are Coast Guard crews to do with ice, snow and blizzard-like conditions? Train. Crews at Station Cleveland Harbor recently completed two weeks of ice-rescue training led by Petty Officer 2nd Class Walter Vitou.
The frozen Midwest lakes are a far cry from where Vitou first started his career. Vitou joined the Coast Guard in 2002 as a reservist in a port security unit, deploying overseas in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. As a business owner and college student, he pursued a career in firefighting post-deployment, however, during this time his newborn daughter was diagnosed with a rare eye cancer.
“After this devastating and life-altering news, I immediately changed gears and backtracked to my original support structure and equally beloved Coast Guard,” said Vitou.
Vitou was brought back on active duty in early 2008 where he was assigned to Coast Guard Station Lorain. He served there for five years “earning every qualification and loving every minute of it.” He then received orders to Station Cleveland Harbor where he was able to keep his valuable connections and local network, enhancing the work his station does with surrounding agencies. Work just like the station’s recent ice-rescue training.
As the operations petty officer at the station and assistant training petty officer, Vitou, along with Cleveland Fire Department, spearheaded a two-week long, joint-agency training event. The training, while “extremely cold” was a resounding success, qualifying seven station personnel and 134 regional public safety personnel.
Ice-rescue training is essential in the station’s area or operations and unique to the 9th Coast Guard District. Along with learning capabilities, procedures and available resources, the training opportunity enabled the station’s crew to better communicate with their local partners; a critical element in decreasing response times during ice emergencies.
“Great Lakes ice is very unpredictable and dangerous,” said Vitou. “We ensure that rescuers have the right clothing and equipment needed to be the best at their job and to ultimately complete a successful mission.”
The two- week training for Station Cleveland Harbor may be complete, but winter weather is far from over. Vitou and the crew will continue to stand a vigilant watch, now more prepared for any potential ice rescues, but look forward to the spring boating season.
“It’s difficult to constantly change gears from boating season to ice season,” said Vitou, “But that’s what makes the 9th Coast Guard District so great.”