By Stephanie Malench
On February 16, 15 Highland Fire Department personnel trained on ice/cold water rescue techniques.
The training session was held at the pond outside the Korte Recreation Center at 1 Nagel Drive in Highland.
Highland Emergency Services Chief Brian Wilson said the reason the training was held on a night with temperatures near or below zero degrees because “these are the very same conditions where we will likely be called out for a person or animal who has fallen through the ice. It is best for the rescuers to train in the same conditions so they understand the obstacles this weather presents and how to overcome those obstacles”.
The department chopped a hole into the ice about 5 feet in diameter so the victims could be placed directly in the water.
Victims and rescuers all wore insulated waterproof, cold water rescue suits and personal flotation devices.
The rescuers who went out on the ice had a rope tethered to them, and they took a second rope out to tether to the victim.
Once the rescuer had the victim ready, a hand signal was given and the shore tenders would pull the ropes, bringing the victim back to shore.
Because real victims will not have waterproof clothing on, Wilson says victims will be wet and can experience hypothermia (low body temperature) in a short period of time.
Hypothermia will drain the strength quickly from a victim and cause them to become disoriented. “It is critical that we get rescuers to these victims as quickly as possible before a victim lets go of or slips below the remaining ice” Wilson said.
“I am very proud of this group of volunteers who give of their time to train and serve the citizens of Highland” Wilson said. “Being a volunteer is a huge time commitment on their part because they are held to the same standards our full time firefighters are”.
According to an ice safety fact sheet on the Boy Scouts of America website (https://www.scouting.org/health-and-safety/alerts/120203-2/), ice strength depends on a combination of factors: thickness, external temperature over a period of time and on the day, snow coverage, depth of water under the ice, size of water body, chemical composition of water (fresh or saltwater), and local climate fluctuations.
The sheet also lists the following safety tips before going out on ice: never go on ice that is less than 4 inches thick, wear a life jacket for warmth and safety, dress warmly in layers, carry ice picks or claws and know how to rescue yourself or someone else, and only go on clear, thick ice (cloudy ice is unsafe).
The National Water Safety Congress and other agencies remind those spending time outdoors that “no ice is safe ice”.