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Off-duty officer jumps in to perform water rescue during red flag warning in Grand Haven

This was the first time the DNR closed water entry at a state park beach under the new land use order in the entire state of Michigan.

GRAND HAVEN, Mich. — Grand Haven City Beach was open to swimmers again Wednesday, after a busy Tuesday when water conditions prompted several rescues, and authorities eventually decided to close access to the water altogether.

13 ON YOUR SIDE learned that an off-duty police officer jumped in to help Tuesday afternoon, and that the closure was the first of its kind in the state of Michigan.

Grand Haven Department of Public Safety officer Kelvin Miller said there were three water rescues in just a matter of 20 or 30 minutes.

He was off-duty at the time, spending the day at the state park with his family.

"I was at the playground and got an alert that there was a water rescue at area four," he said, "and it turns out that was right near where I was."

Miller jumped into action, asking DNR personnel on the scene how he could help. 

"They gave me a life jacket and I was able to go out and assist the person in the water," Miller explained.

Miller said that the first call for a water rescue was initially for a woman in distress, but by the time he got to the water's edge, he saw her walking out escorted by a bystander.

"While I was standing there, I was waived down by another person pointing out to the water," he said, "showing me that there was somebody else in distress, unrelated to the first call."

By around 7:45 Tuesday night, the DNR made a call. 

"With three water rescues back-to-back like that they made the determination to shut the beach down," Miller explained.

In a statement to the public Tuesday evening, Grand Haven State Park said the following:

"Access to the swimming area at Grand Haven State Park is closed to the public at this time due to water conditions and multiple water emergencies this evening. Lake conditions will be evaluated for re-entry tomorrow morning."

Grand Haven State Park Supervisor Andy LundBorg spoke to 13 ON YOUR SIDE on the phone Wednesday. 

He explained that although red flags on the beach all day meant there were dangerous conditions in the water, that alone can't stop people from swimming. 

Their only option was to officially shut down the water to swimmers with the threat of a citation if caught. That comes after a new order was put in place last year.

The order says the DNR can prevent or fine a person who enters waters under their jurisdiction when certain conditions are present. This includes when harmful bacteria is found in the water, weather conditions are dangerous or there are rough waves.

LundBorg said this was the first time the DNR closed water entry at a state park beach under the new land use order in the entire state of Michigan.

He said they want to make sure people know citations are something they can do, but this is just as new to them as it to the public, so their first priority is to educate people. Prior to the new order, the DNR had no legal authority to ticket people just for swimming during red flag conditions. 

"When there's no swimming advised with the red flags, there's more things present in the water," explained Officer Miller. "Like rip currents, higher wave action and just general unsafe conditions to even be in the water."

LundBorg wanted to emphasize that even when water access is closed, beach access still remains open. 

You can learn more about beach safety at state parks and the new order by clicking here. 

    

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