Area fire departments train for ice water rescue
By Rapids City Times staff
PITTSVILLE – First responders from 15 area fire departments spent part of their weekend training to perform ice water rescues.
The Pittsville Fire Company offered the hands-on training on Jan. 26 at a private pond south of Pittsville. The firefighters spent the morning in a classroom setting taking an ice rescue technician course offered at the Pittsville Fire Department, before heading out to the ice for the real thing.
Pittsville Fire Chief Jerry Minor said 52 people completed the classroom and hands-on certifications.
“Ice rescues are a very infrequent thing; however, when a fire department is called to them – and it is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when – it poses an extreme danger to the rescuers,” he said. “We don’t do them very often, so they are a low-frequency event, but they are a highly dangerous event. Without proper training and proper equipment, it is deadly to the firefighter that goes out there to try to retrieve this patient.”
Minor said trainees from Arpin, Richfield, Remington, Hewitt, Vesper, Saratoga, Port Edwards, Grand Rapids, Neillsville, Granton, Lyndon Station, Pittsville, Lincoln, Armenia, and the SAFER department from the Wausau Metro area all took part in the Saturday training.
“Most of them are new rescue personnel, and some people are here for a refresher; so, you can do both things,” Minor said. “We have some new neighbors here that are just getting into this; Neillsville Fire Department is here, and they want to get more involved in rescue.
“Every fire department in Wisconsin, I am sure, has a body of water in it that they may be called to at any time – back yard ponds to swimming holes – we all have them. So, to say we don’t have a water rescue problem, that is not really true; they are out there.”
Arpin Fire Chief Luke Bravener took four of his crew members to the Pittsville Fire Company Ice Water Rescue course.
“It is very good training,” Bravener said. “You hope you never have to use it, but it is always good to know it and it is a good tool to have in the tool box if you ever get the call.”
Bravener took the training two years ago, and says his department now has eight or nine firefighters who are certified in ice rescue. Bravener was with the Sherry Fire Department before joining the Arpin Department, and grew up in fire service.
“I lived a block away from Sherry’s fire department when I was younger and just seen the trucks go by and it intrigued me, so I became EMR, then did the fire (training,”) Bravener recalled. “My wife is an EMR and firefighter now. She just passed the firefighter class; then, our oldest son did last weekend, and his girlfriend. My mom used to be a first responder. Back in 1997, she took the class with me originally. My brother-in-law, he is on Richfield (fire department.) It’s a family affair.”
Bravener said he has not had to use his ice water rescue training in a real situation yet.
Alisha Olson, 21, of Marshfield is a member of the Richfield Fire Department, and learned a number of ice water rescue techniques, including how to safe herself.
“So, I am trying to get my feet under the water to help myself to get back to the ice and using your arms to get yourself out of the water,” she explained. “If you can’t rescue yourself, then you can’t rescue anybody else if you are trying. So, it is easier to learn first how to get yourself out, then it is to help somebody else as well.”
Olson said that she was scared at first, after entering the water, but said she quickly found a comfort level.
“Once you get in, you feel like a giant floating device. It is hard to get your feet underneath you, when you are trying to float,” Olson added. “But, after a while, you feel like you are in this cool place; like you can float no matter what you are going to do, you can’t go (anywhere.)”
Olson said she’s been a member of the Richfield Fire Department for a couple years.
The Jan. 26 training and certification marked the 21st year of the program. The full course is offered to area departments every two years, with refresher classes on the off years.
The training is not only a method to teach life-saving skills, but also a way to prepare responders for rescue conditions. A report from the New York State Homeland Security and Emergency Services, stated that drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death and that many rescuers become victims due to several causes – failure to wear a PFD (life jacket), over estimating abilities, in adequate training, an urgency to act, and underestimating the effects of cold moving water.