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Portage Fire Department preparing for Coast Guard's Michigan City staffing reduction

Portage Fire Chief Chris Crail speaks during the April 2 city council meeting.
screenshot from City of Portage YouTube video
Portage Fire Chief Chris Crail speaks during the April 2 city council meeting.

The Portage Fire Department is preparing to help keep Lake Michigan safe, as the Coast Guard cuts staffing at its Michigan City station.

Fire Chief Chris Crail told the city council Tuesday that the Coast Guard station will only be staffed 40 hours per week, compared to the round-the-clock service it's had until now. "It has nothing to do with money. The federal government has plenty of money to fund it," Crail explained. "It all has to do with staffing. They are running into the same problems that public safety is running into. They just don't have people signing up to join the coast guard."

That means for incidents west of Burns Waterway, the Coast Guard's Chicago station would have to respond, and for those to the east, the Coast Guard would have to respond from St. Joseph Michigan.

Now, Crail says Portage leaders have been meeting with the Coast Guard to discuss ways his department's dive team could help pick up the slack, since it has a boat on the lake full-time during the boating season. "They are looking forward to the partnership with us and us being able to help them," Crail said.

He said the Coast Guard trusts the Portage dive team to search the water to the same standard. "That's positive to hear from a federal agency that they trust our ability," Crail told council members. "So we will continue to work and continue to help the Coast Guard in any way that we can."

Earlier this year, U.S. Representative Rudy Yakym urged the Coast Guard to reconsider the cuts. He noted that the Michigan City station averages 125 search and rescue calls a year and warned that "Reducing operating hours will lead to longer response times and increase the chances of fatalities."

Crail said the Coast Guard hopes the staffing reduction will be temporary, but it doesn't currently know how long it might take to restore full-time service.