Preparing for ice rescue
The lone ice fisherman stood about 150 feet off the north side of Barker Reservoir, his line submerged in the hole he had chopped into the ice. While he enjoyed the solitude and the sound of ice cracking, a group of people climbed out of the fire engines and rescue trucks that were parked along the shore.
The sun was shining, the wind was non-present, and it was a perfect day for fishing. But it was not legal, nor was it safe.
Firefighters with the Nederland Fire Protection District informed the fisherman that it would be wise to get off the ice. Now. He obliged them and the Ned fire crew went about doing what they came to do: crawling out on the ice and pretending to be drowning while other firefighters ventured out onto the frozen slabs to rescue the victims.
It was soon apparent that it was a lot harder than it looked. The temperature of the water under the ice is typically about 38 degrees, fatally hypothermic. The survival suits donned by the firefighters for the training exercise are filled with air that gives the rescuer buoyancy, but also makes it extremely difficult to maneuver through the water and over the ice.
To make it worse, the suits tend to let in water, icy water—not enough to sink a person, but enough to turn skin blue and cause uncontrollable shaking. NFPD chief Rick Dirr was the “victim,” and he learned quickly that all of the above made for an uncomfortable morning, but the discomfort was outweighed by the experience gained by firefighter applicants.
There have been several deaths by hypothermia in Barker Reservoir, a situation that demands quick response. It only takes minutes for the icy water to shut down a body’s ability to survive. The smallest increment of time getting to the victim could be the difference between life and death.
Training for an ice rescue is the prime weapon the fire department has to ensure that firefighters have the right equipment, the experience and the knowledge that what they do will save a life.