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Rescue Response Policy Changes in Wake of West Bloomfield Teen Death

Ikechukwu Onwuzurike, 18, dies June 17 in southern Lake Huron
Ikechukwu Onwuzurike, 18, dies June 17 in southern Lake Huron

Ikechukwu Onwuzurike, 18, of West Bloomfield drowned in Lake Huron June 17.

Lexington firefighters were never called.

“I can’t say we would have made a difference, “Lexington Fire Lt. Mike Harder told the Detroit Free Press, “but I can say we would’ve been there 20 minutes sooner.”

For the past three years, dispatchers in Sanilac county have been given orders not to dispatch firefighters to water rescues.

Sanilac County Sheriff Garry Biniecki reversed that decision Friday and implemented a new policy.

Undersheriff Bradley Roff told the Free Press Biniecki was worried about liability because firefighters hadn’t been through Department of Natural Resources marine rescue training. The old policy dated back to 2010, when Lexington firefighters went to save three stranded girls in a raft without wearing the proper equipment. Roff said the firefighters were able to save the girls, but should have been better equipped.

Lexington village manager Tom Raymond said firefighters are covered by insurance in all rescue situations, and he thinks the sheriff is overly cautious.

“You don’t have a $100,000 boat capable of responding out in the lake and not use it,” he told the Free Press. “If the sheriff feels we need additional training, I don’t have a problem with that, but you can’t always operate in fear of being sued.”

Though they weren’t dispatched, Lexington firefighters responded to the June 17 drowning after hearing scanner traffic about the emergency.

“If they were my kids, I would have hoped someone would have done the same,” Harder said, adding that he and other firefighters work for fire association and village.

“We do not work for the sheriff department,” he said.

Lexington Fire Chief Mike Sharon said he’s not sure an earlier response would have saved Onwuzurike’s life.

“It doesn’t sound like he ever surfaced, but you never know,” he said.


» For the complete story, go to the Detroit Free Press.

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