National Ice Rescue School: A Model of Proficiency

“Proficiency must remain our enduring anchor — proficiency in craft, proficiency in leadership, and disciplined initiative,” said Adm. Robert Papp, commandant of the Coast Guard in his State of the Coast Guard Address, Feb. 27, 2013. “We must master these three things. There is no short cut. In a service where we hold the lives of our shipmates, and others in our hands, our standard must be and is excellence!”

Proficiency has five elements; the first two pertain to the service’s obligation to individual Coast Guardsmen.

“First, we provide training, education, qualification and certification,” said Papp. “Then once qualified, we provide advanced knowledge, experience and seasoning.”

Proficiency was the name of the game during the opening week of the National Ice Rescue School in Essexville, Mich., beginning Jan. 13. The NIRS is operated out of the Ice Capabilities Center of Excellence.


A National Ice Rescue School instructor demonstrates an ice rescue technique.

A National Ice Rescue School instructor demonstrates an ice rescue technique.

“The instructors at the National Ice Rescue School are the most proficient ice rescuers in the Coast Guard,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Justin Abold, lead ice rescue instructor. “Their proficiency ensures that students graduate with the ability to deliver a standardized ice rescuer course to their unit or local agencies.”

Every ice rescuer attending the school was already a qualified ice rescuer, but they were attending the “train the trainer” portion of the school.

Students, 15 in total, came from across the country to participate in the week-long training. They received classroom instruction from five ice rescue instructors. They all discussed the various ice-rescue techniques. Then they split into two groups and prepared detailed training sessions about each rescue technique as well as how to prepare and use each rescue tool. After preparing their individual training, they each presented their specific training in front of the class. Afterward, they received feedback from instructors, and also from their classmates. By the end of the week, they had conducted four full training sessions on their subject.

BM1 Jusin Abold trains a student at the National Ice Rescue School.

BM1 Jusin Abold trains a student at the National Ice Rescue School.


Throughout the week, they taught the information again and again, as well as demonstrated the various techniques both in the classroom and on the ice.

All this effort was put forth so these students could go back to their home units and share the knowledge in a seasoned and professional manner.

“This winter, instructors at the Coast Guard National Ice Rescue School are preparing ice rescuers from more than 50 Coast Guard units to deliver ice rescue training at their units and to local search-and-rescue partners,” said Michael Hudson, chief of the National Ice Rescue School. “Ice rescue is dangerous work done in the harshest conditions. There is risk with every evolution. This standardized training is designed to ensure the safety and effectiveness of ice rescue teams.”

“The other three elements of proficiency, we own as individuals,” Papp continued. “The first of these are self-discipline and voluntary adherence to a set of rules or standards. Next is sustained drive to achieve higher levels of excellence and finally, the continuous pursuit of mastery of craft.

Every one of the students can not only perform the task at hand, but they are now certified to train others. This is the essence of the fifth element.




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