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Ice water rescue

A frigid training session


LAKE HUNTINGTON, NY — As the snow fell and the frigid wind blew, dozens of volunteer firefighters took turns rescuing each other from a would-be watery death. The day-long training session was staged on Lake Huntington on Saturday, February 21. While some men inched along the ice on their bellies toward a victim, others stood onshore, ready to pull the victim to safety with long yellow ropes.

More than one person witnessing the scene said, “Those guys are working their butts off.”

Fire companies from Fallsburg, Lake Huntington, Roscoe, Rock Hill, Youngsville and New Jersey took part in the exercise. Jason Kraack, chief of the Lake Huntington Fire Department, said there are a great many bodies of water in the area, but firefighters aren’t called that often to rescue someone who has fallen through the ice; therefore, this kind of training is very helpful.

The session was conducted by Andrea Zaferes, vice president of Lifeguard Systems Inc. in Shokan, NY. She is one of the leading trainers of water rescue and gives courses across the country.

Asked what she was telling the volunteers to keep in mind, she answered, “In real life, the ice is only going to be about an inch and a half thick, not 12 inches as it is here. So, they have to act as if they could fall through at any moment; all their actions need to be low and slow. Also, they got to keep talking to that victim. In the real world, the victims are not wearing ice-rescue suits. In the real world, the victims are going down to a place from where they might never come back, so you’ve got to keep talking to them, with a mental lifeline, communicating with them.”

She also had advice for the public at large. She said 30 percent of people who drown because of falling through ice do so while trying to rescue a dog that has fallen through. She said, “If you see someone fall through the ice, do not go out there; you will only become a second victim. I don’t care if it’s a child out there, if a child fell through an adult is absolutely going to fall through. What you want to do is immediately mark the shore where you’re standing, a pen, a glove, anything. And then start shouting to them, ‘Kick your feet, keep your face on the ice and pull! Kick your feet, keep your face on the ice and pull!’ If it’s not working for them, stop and tell them to hold on. Look up and take a range, see what’s behind them. Locate if they’re in between say a tree on the opposite shore and what you put on the ground, so if they do go under and the dive team shows up, you can say, ‘the person is right there,’ and that can make a difference between a rescue and a recovery.”

And what if you should ever fall through the ice?

“If you do fall through the ice, and you’re underneath, go for the dark spot. The hole is the dark spot, the light is the ice. Unfortunately, most people go to the light, go to the dark spot. Don’t go far, the hole will be right there, kick your way up and feel, when you get up, grab onto the ice, kick your feet and pull, because you’ve got to get horizontal before you can get out.”

And finally, she said that no one should ever go on the ice without wearing a lifejacket and carrying a pair of ice awls, just in case you need them to pull yourself out of a hole.

TRR photo by Fritz Mayer
Volunteer firefighters from six companies run rescue drills on the ice in Lake Huntington. (Click for larger version)