The Deerfield Fire Department recently conducted a training exercise on cold water ice rescue.
With a hole cut into a local 20 foot deep pond the goal of the practice, coordinated by Assistant Chief Vaughn Sutcliffe, was to get the newer members in the water and comfortable with the cold-water suits, according to Fire Chief Miles Felmly.
The suits give outstanding protection, he said, and allow a rescuer to enter the water with flotation and thermal protection. The department averages several cold water rescues each season from someone falling through the ice of Berlin Reservoir.
Animal rescues are also performed as an emergency because usually when a pet falls through the ice, there is a human owner coming shortly to attempt a rescue. Felmly said it is very common to get a call for a dog in the water and find the owner also in the water upon arrival.
It is extremely difficult for people in wet clothing to escape from a hole in the ice themselves. Felmly said the weight of the wet clothing and the extreme shock of the freezing water exhaust quickly. Also there is no traction on the ice for the hands to pull the person from the water. Often a victim will tear their fingernails off attempting to get out of the water.
Rescuers carry ice picks to pull out of the water onto the ice but also practice techniques to self-extract without the ice picks, he said. Firefighters at the training spend about one hour each in the water in addition to time on the ice practicing throwing ropes and getting the suits on quickly. Felmly said that each department member does this training unpaid on their own time.