Humboldt Bay Coast Guard prepare for the worst at Big Lagoon
Despite a barbecue filled with pulled pork and dogs begging for attention, a meeting was held at Big Lagoon Campgrounds in Trinidad with an ominous purpose. Though the setting was light-hearted, the crew donned orange and black suits, preparing for the worst case scenario.
“The swimmer is basically dragging you through what seems like a monsoon or a mini-hurricane from the rotor wash coming off the helicopter,” said aviation mechanic Matt Lareau, age 28 from Springfield, Massachusetts, still wet after being hoisted up to the helicopter for the first time.
More than 40 members of the Coast Guard aviation unit went to Big Lagoon on Oct. 11 to practice their annual “wet drills.” The drills involve four training scenarios built around surviving a helicopter crash. The training covered raft and swimming drills, pyrotechnic training with flairs, land survival and vest itemization drills.
Chief rescue swimmer Chris Razoyk, age 40 from Haverhill, Massachusetts, said this training was a chance for the crew to come together and become well acquainted with procedures before they are in a stressful situation.
“Today is a good opportunity for the flight mechanics, pilots, whatever, to get a feel for what it’s like to be under the helicopter,” Razoyk said. “And to feel what it’s like for us, for them, to be in a real situation.”
The crew wore neon orange flight suits resembling space suits and waded out into the lagoon to learn how to stay afloat and wrangle each other into a raft of bad scenarios. They also wore bulky black vests to carry survival essentials that weigh 30 pounds on their own.
Avionics electrical technician John Kummerer, age 28 from Columbus, Ohio, experienced his first round of wet drills.
“It’s good to know what you have to do, in case god forbid you do go down,” Kummerer said.
The land survival lecture covered the use of sticks and clothing to create makeshift splints in the event of a land crash involving injuries. Interesting tidbits, such as peeing onto cloth to make it stronger, as made famous in the movie Shanghai Noon, were dispensed to educate the trainees and to also keep the mood light, in opposition to heavy training.
Kummerer found the lecture to be not only helpful in the event of catastrophe at work, but in day to day life here in Humboldt.
“You’re hiking and you don’t have any of that gear on you and you realize that you can use sticks, rocks, whatever for tourniquets,” Kummerer said.
Kummerer may have more use for this practical training now that he’s found a new passion here in Humboldt: disc golf.
“I had never even heard of it until I moved here,” Kummerer said. “And now I love playing disc golf.”
About a dozen pilots and technicians in the lagoon waited for their turn to be lifted up into a hovering helicopter and dropped back down again; a drill that simulated what rescue swimmers and victims experience during a real rescue operation. For some trainees, it was for their first time.
Lareau had his first experience being lifted out of the water during these drills. Lareau said he wasn’t scared of the experience at all.
“The guy that was hoisting us up, I work with him every day,” Lareau said. “So I have really no doubt in my mind that everyone up there has our best interest in mind.”
The crew in the Coast Guard have dangerous jobs, but they are a tight-knit group, which makes the job, and living in a secluded place like Humboldt County, a little easier.
“Everybody makes sure that you don’t feel alone,” Lareau said. “We’re pretty close.”
After the drills finished, the grill churned out burgers and pork sandwiches by high-ranking Coast Guard officers. The crew seemed relaxed and at home despite the high-pressure trainings they had just experienced.
“It’s exhilarating,” Lareau said. “That’s why we took jobs like this in the Coast Guard.”