Michigan Firefighters Pull Driver From Lake

Firefighters who hoped to get out the vote Thursday ended up getting out the driver of a submerged truck in Duck Lake.

In a stroke of luck, White Lake Fire Authority firefighters were just down the road from the spot along Scenic Drive where a 26-year-old Calumet man drove his pickup truck into the water.

Fire Chief Bob Phillips said the uniformed firefighters were getting ready to go door-to-door in the area to let people know about the upcoming fire millage request.

Four nights a week, for the past two weeks, firefighters have been volunteering their time to educate residents in the city of Whitehall as well as Fruitland and Whitehall townships, about the millage.

"They were in the right spot at the right time," he said.

Matthew Johnson owes his life to their quick response.

When firefighters got him to shore, "he wasn't breathing and he had no pulse," Phillips said. They started cardiopulmonary resuscitation, "and about 45 seconds into it, he started breathing again," the chief said.

A Muskegon County Sheriff's Department report said Johnson was taken to Hackley Hospital. A hospital official said this morning that policy prevented him from releasing any information about Johnson.

However, a sheriff's department report indicated an officer was able to interview Johnson at the hospital, and that the victim appeared to have some mental health issues.

The four firefighters who rescued Johnson -- Pete McCarthy, Ben Novak, Brian Grabenstetter and Ray Cole Jr. -- had their pagers with them and heard the call dispatched at 6:10 p.m.

A woman living near the intersection of Duck Lake Road and Scenic Drive looked out her kitchen window, saw vehicle tracks leading to the water and the back end of a truck going under.

The woman, who asked not to be identified, called 911.

McCarthy said he and Novak jumped a fence and ran down to the beach. All they could see was about six inches of the truck's antenna sticking out of the water and the outline of the rear of the cab.

"There was a huge amount of debris floating around the vehicle," he said.

The firefighters, along with a fifth rescuer, Capt. Jeff Holmstrom, could see pop cans, blankets and bags floating in the water. The truck was about 25 yards out into lake, Phillips said.

They pulled off their shoes and uniform shirts and went into the water. McCarthy said he was able to walk out to the truck tailgate. He climbed into the truck bed, reached around to the driver's door and was able to get it open.

"I reached in and grabbed the man's shoulder," he said. "I yelled to the captain that we had somebody."

McCarthy jumped into the water and unbuckled the victim's seatbelt. The cab was full of water, and the victim immediately floated to the roof. McCarthy and Novak pulled him out.

"He wasn't breathing," McCarthy said. "His lips were blue."

McCarthy started to shore with the victim, while Novak went back to the truck to make sure no one else was inside. Cole and Grabenstetter waded out and helped get the victim the rest of the way into shore. Then they started CPR.

The woman, who watched the rescue, called it "amazingly fast."

Saving someone's life "is actually a weird feeling," McCarthy said. "It takes awhile to set in. When something like that happens, your training and experience kick in. You do it and think about it later."

Johnson was taken to the hospital by White Lake Ambulance Authority, and the sheriff's department dive team responded and hooked the pickup truck to a tow truck and pulled it from the water.

Phillips said the if the firefighters hadn't been right there, "it probably would not have been a rescue, it would have been a recovery."

McCarthy and Novak drew praise from the sheriff's department for entering the water "with complete disregard for their safety," rescuing a victim who otherwise "would have certainly drowned."

McCarthy said they were unable to get back to passing out millage brochures and talking to neighbors because they were on the scene until around 9 p.m.

On Nov. 2, voters will be asked to approve a 0.9-mill property-tax increase for a new fire station and to have that station staffed with one firefighter round-the-clock.

The WLFA wants to buy a 4-acre parcel in the city's industrial park to build a modern station that would accommodate the larger trucks firefighters use today and additional equipment.