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Area FIrefighters receive Ice/ Cold Water Rescue Training

By Devese “Dee” Ursery 

COLLINSVILLE — As temperatures drop and the ice begins to form, citizens are placed at risk when they venture out onto these surfaces. 

Some may be curious; others may be chasing after a pet. Regardless of the reasoning, there is a potential for disaster, and firefighters and emergency personnel must be prepared to respond. This training provides the skills needed to respond effectively here and to the neighboring departments that participated.

Collinsville Fire Department led its Ice Rescue Technician Level Course, this past Wednesday, on Jan.17, in Woodland Park. During the course, firefighters/paramedics from Collinsville, Glen Carbon and Highland were training to learn the best and safest practices for rescuing people and animals from ice and cold water emergencies.

Water/ice rescues are considered a ‘low-frequency’ condition, meaning that they don’t happen often, training for these scenarios is important because they are also considered ‘high-hazard’. There are a  lot of things that could go wrong during these emergencies, not only for the victim but for the rescuer as well, making it a ‘high-hazard situation.The training is being held both in the classroom and on the ice, with Lieutenant Kurt Litteken and Firefighter/Paramedic Simon Childerson leading the course.

“Our training includes educating our firefighters of the hazards associated with cold/ice water, victim removal from various icy conditions, and treatment of those victims,” Litteken said. “They complete a written exam and must participate and become competent in techniques of victim removal from icy water utilizing various pieces of equipment.”

Litteken said the entire training is broken into two main sections,  Awareness certification, which  is a four hour block of instruction with a written exam. The second section combines the Operations level and Technician level certification and is an additional five to seven hours of practical exercises depending on the class size.

According to Litteken The four levels of certification with Lifesaving Resources of Ice Rescue are:

Awareness – these members are educated on hazard identification, victim assessment and treatment, ice formation and safety, as well as equipment familiarization.

Operations – these members learn the knowledge obtained in Awareness as well as proper PPE inspection of rescue swimmers, rigging of ropes and equipment, knowledge of victim removal techniques, shore and boat operations, and responsible for communication between the rescue swimmer and those members manning the rope lines that pull the swimmer and victim out of the water. 

Technicians – these members cover that information included in Awareness and Operations and also enter the water to retrieve and remove victims from the ice using various techniques. 

Instructor – these members are trained to the technician level and must show competency in the information and effectively teach the program.  This four-day class is only available by attending the Instructor Academy in Maine. Collinsville has two Instructors.

According to Litteken, this year’s Ice Rescue practical training was held at Woodland Park this past Wednesday. They will complete one more Awareness class before heading outside, to the ice for some more cold weather training.

“As temperatures drop and the ice begins to form, our citizens are placed at risk when they venture out onto these surfaces. Some may be curious; others may be chasing after a pet,” Litteken said. “Regardless of reasoning, there is a potential for disaster, and we must be prepared to respond. This training provides the skills needed to respond effectively here and to our neighboring departments that participated.”

Litteken said that they certified 18 firefighters on Wednesday, Jan. 24, and they expect to certify 22 more on Jan. 25.

“We teach under the authority of Life saving Resources,” Litteken said. “Each member that completes the certification training will need to recertify after five years.”

Litteken and Childerson completed the Instructor Course for this program in Portland,  Maine in  February of 2022. Since then, they’ve hosted multiple training sessions on ice and in cold water. The purpose of the training is to bring team members at the Collinsville Fire Department and other Metro East departments from no training to Technician Level.

“The most important thing to communicate to the readers is the fact that NO ICE IS SAFE ICE,” Litteken said. “Any time someone steps onto ice they are doing so with a certain level of risk.” 

 Litteken said if members of the community choose to travel onto a frozen lake or pond, it should be properly inspected for a proper level of thickness.  Generally, four inches is needed before the ice can support an average adult.  If your property contains a body of water, it is best to place warnings up to those that may be enticed to venturing onto it. If in doubt, stay out.

“If a victim submerges it is difficult to retrieve them and may require contacting rescue divers to respond.  Beyond a submerged incident, unexpected failure of the ice or damage to the suit will place our rescue swimmers at risk of hypothermia.  In this instance, we now created additional victims,” Litteken said. “We do our very best to minimize this risk though cannot eliminate it completely. In addition to those items above, multiple victims that fall through the ice may exhaust our resources. We will contact our neighboring departments for assistance in those situations.”


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