Firefighters Walk On Thin Ice For Good Reason

Firefighters train for ice rescue wearing special suit made to be water proof and insulated for extreme cold

By Al Morrissette

(Victor Valley) The second phase of winter rescue training was performed at Jackson Lake from March 2-4 as Wrightwood Fire Capt Steve Roeber lead the instructing team to teach and review Ice Rescue Training of approximately 200 firefighters and rescue personnel from both San Bernardino and Los Angeles Counties.

Prior to a donation of over $2,800 by the Timberline Lions Club in 2008, the Wrightwood firefighters could only attempt a rescue of someone that fell through the Jackson Lake ice by staying onshore and then pumping air into a sealed fire hose and worming the hose out to the victim to grab onto and then be pulled back to the shoreline. That prior program had a significant downfall in that victims were often in a stage of hyperthermia and frozen fingers do not grip an inflated hose very well.

Now they have a set of four ice rescue suits from that donation plus other additional suits and a reaching pole system that enables the rescuers to actually go out to the victim or victims and resolve most situations more quickly. Speed is of the essence during an ice rescue because hyperthermia can set in within just a few minutes of exposure to freezing ice water temperatures and the golden hour is vital for recovery.
The core of ice rescue are these suits which are 1 piece including the gloves and boots, they are buoyant on their own yet a life vest is also worn to help counterbalance the weight of the victim. The waterproof outfit includes several sealed pockets and also includes “ice awls”, a tool that is light, durable and portable that enables the rescuer to navigate better over the ice and can be used as a focus point to get the rescuer and victim out of the water under their own power.

Each participant in the training series had to portray the victim and be rescued, be the rescuer that actually navigates over the ice either by foot or by the use of an ice sled and be the backup who stays on the shore and pulls the rescuer and victim to safety by the use of nylon rope attached to the rescuer and the sled.

Though the training is extensive, the best thing for winter visitors of Jackson Lake is to heed the warning signs to stay off the ice and not chance falling through. The ice can easily seem thick and stable to the average visitor but in reality it is uneven in thickness regardless of how long it has been frozen and can be several inches thick in one spot adjoined by an area only fractions of an inch thick. Currently the lake is very thin iced and trainees on March 3 only had to walk a short distance from shore to actually fall through the ice. We must remember that the closes Ice Rescue Team are the firefighters at the Wrightwood Fire Station which is several miles from the lake and that travel time can take at least 15 minutes without traffic interference. If a 911 caller uses a cell phone near the lake and actually get a cell signal, the call first goes to the Los Angeles 911 Dispatch and then to the Wrightwood Fire Station through the San Bernardino 911 Dispatch. The LA response comes by a helicopter from the La Canada area that must fly over the San Gabriel Mountains. The copter does bring a team of divers but can encounter difficulty landing because of visitors around and near the lake.

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