Surfing and swimming was a way of life for Jaime Vanacore.
Growing up in West Palm Beach, Fla., Vanacore spent her free time enjoying the state’s famous warm waters as often as she could.
So, her decision not only to join the U.S. Coast Guard in 2002 but to become a rescue swimmer was a natural fit.
“I just joined out of high school,” she said.
And she always knew she wanted to be a rescue swimmer.
“It’s the greatest job I’ve ever had,” said Vanacore, who is now stationed in Atlantic City.
The life of a rescue swimmer has been portrayed in film, and while the everyday is not so dramatic, Vanacore spent her days training, waiting for a call for help.
“I have had two live hoists, and we’ve done tons of searches,” she said.
The live hoists included collecting two men whose boat ran aground. The second involved hoisting a fisherman who needed medical care after getting his arm caught in his boat’s rigging.
“It was intense. It was a lot to manage, but the training just kicked in,” Vanacore said.
The training is now the focus of a Coast Guard video that was recently shown to recruits at Training Center Cape May.
Vanacore then spoke to the crowd, offering a glimpse of Coast Guard life from a veteran member.
“I told them to carry themselves with pride,” she said.
Coast Guard spokesman Nick Ameen said rescue swimmers work with a pilot, co-pilot and flight mechanic as part of a helicopter crew.
“Coast Guard aviators in general serve a crucial function for search and rescue. Rescue swimmers play a key role in our search-and-rescue program,” he said.
The flight mechanic, for instance, controls the hoist that swimmers use to make their rescues.
Vanacore is one of only four female rescue swimmers in the Coast Guard. About 300 rescue swimmers are men.
“It is a predominantly male field, but we all have to carry the same qualifications,” she said.
According to the Coast Guard’s website, the Coast Guard Helicopter Rescue Swimmer Program was established in 1983 and began as a high seas rescue initiative to recover incapacitated people from the open ocean in a heavy seas environment.
The men and women, designated with the Aviation Survival Technician rating, undergo an initial 18-week training course at Aviation Technical Training Center in Elizabeth City, N.C.
The program’s goal is to ensure that the rescue swimmers have the flexibility, strength, endurance and equipment knowledge to function for 30 minutes in heavy seas.
While Vanacore, 28, has yet to be placed in that situation, she’s ready for it.
“Every day, you wait for epic seas. You don’t want anybody in distress, but that’s what we’re here for,” Vanacore said. “You want to use what you learned.”
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