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September 19, 2018

Fire Department, Coast Guard Hone Ice Rescue Skills


OSWEGO, NY – When someone tells you you’re on thin ice, you’re in trouble. When you are actually on thin ice, your life could be in danger.

The U.S. Coast Guard, Oswego Station, has been conducting joint training exercises with the Oswego Fire Department to be prepared in the event of an emergency.

The "victim" is assisted on to a board  as part of one of the ice rescue drills Wednesday in the Oswego River. Once securely on the board, the victim was pulled to safety.

The "victim" is assisted on to a board as part of one of the ice rescue drills Wednesday in the Oswego River. Once securely on the board, the victim was pulled to safety.

Earlier this month, an 18-year-old college student was swept off the Breakwall and into the icy Lake Ontario water. He suffered only minor injuries and was rescued quickly.

Many people aren’t as fortunate, according to Senior Chief Joe Orlando of Coast Guard Station Oswego.

He wants the public to be aware of the dangers of ice.

On Wednesday, the two groups were holding training in the river under the former railroad trestle, just south of Simeon-Dewitt Apartments.

“We are conducting a joint ice training exercise with members of the Oswego Fire Department. The ice isn’t as thick as it usually is this winter. People have to be aware of that,” Chief Orlando said. “’No ice is safe ice’ is one of our slogans, especially this year.”

The ice conditions fluctuate on a daily basis, he explained.

“As the temperatures go up and down, the conditions change. It’s not safe to be out on the ice at any time really. We don’t recommend going on the ice; it’s an unstable environment, especially snow-covered ice,” he said.

Sometimes, snowmobile enthusiasts and ice fishermen become victims of drowning and hypothermia after falling through what appears to be stable ice.

Proper precautions should be taken before heading out near or on the ice, added Oswego Fire Chief Jeff McCrobie.

In the drills, the "victim" was dressed in warm protective gear. That's not the case in real life and hypothermia is a big danger, authorities say.

In the drills, the "victim" was dressed in warm protective gear. That's not the case in real life and hypothermia is a big danger, authorities say.

“We are dressed for the conditions, for this exercise, Chief Orlando told Oswego County Today. “People out ice fishing or just walking on the ice for whatever reason really aren’t always dressed properly. Hypothermia is a big danger. It could be just minutes … this cold water can suck the life right out of you.”

Hypothermia becomes the biggest danger after falling through a sheet of ice.

It begins to set in quickly as the person’s body core temperature drops below 95 degrees (35 degrees Celsius).

“No ice is safe ice. You just don’t know the way the conditions have been up and down this year,” Chief McCrobie agreed. “I don’t think any ice around here is stable.”

Ice doesn’t form or maintain uniform thickness. An ice sheet may vary from 12 inches to only one inch within a distance of 10 feet.

Who responds and where depends on how the notification is done, the chiefs said.

“If they call us directly, of course we are getting under way as soon as possible and alerting the 911 center as well and also the fire department – we work together,” Chief Orlando said.

“Training is an important tool for us, absolutely,” added Chief McCrobie. “We need to be able to respond as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

If the worst happens, try not to panic. Remember the following tips:

A member of the Coast Guard uses a hook to pull a "victim' to safety during one of the drills Wednesday. Other life-saving methods were also practiced.

A member of the Coast Guard uses a hook to pull a "victim' to safety during one of the drills Wednesday. Other life-saving methods were also practiced.

Minimize body heat loss. Don’t remove clothing. Button, buckle, zip and tighten collars, cuffs, shoes and hoods. Over your head if possible. The layer of water trapped inside your clothes can help insulate you from the cold water and slow the loss of heat.

Wear a PFD

Devote all your efforts to getting out of the water. Climb onto a boat, raft, the ice or anything that you can grab. Don’t swim unless it’s to reach an object to pull up on. Swimming takes away the warm water between your body and your clothes. Keep movement to a minimum.

If you can’t get out of the water, try the Heat Escape Lessening Position (HELP): Hold your knees to your chest to protect the trunk of your body from heat loss and wrap your arms around your legs and clasp your hands together.

Togetherness: When two or more people fall through the ice, survival time can be increased by 50 percent by huddling together.

In case of an emergency, call 911.

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