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DeKalb Fire Department practices rescues on ice

Published: Friday, Feb. 22, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
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DeKALB – The ice conditions at DeKalb’s Rotary Park were particularly dangerous Thursday morning – so DeKalb firefighters went right into the water.

The mostly frozen pond had thick ice around the edges and patches of thinner ice and open water in the middle.

It was typical for most ice rescues because of the danger of the ice’s structure, so firefighters practiced different ice rescue situations as part of the department’s training process.

“An ice rescue needs to be a quick deployment,” DeKalb Fire Chief Eric Hicks said. “Once they go under, it’s hard to get them.”

The 13 firefighters on duty entered the pond one at a time in water suits, either as the rescuer or the victim, and the department’s Assistant Chief Jeff McMaster, led and coached them.

Although the atmosphere was somewhat relaxed, McMaster said an actual ice rescue is much more urgent.

“Because of the extreme cold waters, we have to act quick,” he said.

Ice rescues can take different turns, depending on the victim, McMaster said.

For example, sometimes the victim panics and tries to climb on top of the rescuer for support.

He said the main health issues the department sees a victim suffer in these situations include hypothermia and cardiac and psychological-related conditions.

Victims can suffer from conditions such as depressed respiration, heart trouble from shock and difficulty breathing after aspirating enough water through near drowning.

McMaster said there are many ways to avoid becoming an ice rescue victim.

He recommends wearing ice awls, spikes with handles.

If victims fall through the ice, they can pull themselves using the awls.

He also said to avoid walking on ice when it’s melting or around moving water.

Although the department only encounters an ice rescue situation a few times a year, McMaster said it’s still important to train for these serious occurrences.

“Some of the most dangerous things are low frequency but high risk,” he said.

He said most incidents go unreported because the victims are able to rescue themselves.

But he said when the ice becomes unstable and the buoyancy changes, the person’s dexterity decreases.

That’s when the fire department steps in.

“We have a pretty well scripted plan,” said Hicks.

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