Frigid temperatures provide for realistic ice rescue training

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By Jessie Wagoner


Frigid temperatures kept most people indoors last week, but the cold weather lured McPherson Fire Department personnel to Wall Park to take part in ice rescue training.

“We do the training once a year and it is weather dependent,” Fire Chief TJ Wyssmann said. “We begin planning for it as soon as we see the forecast. All of our shifts participated, including paid call firefighters.” 

Wyssmann says while most people would shy away from training in freezing temperatures and water firefighters are a bit different and look forward to the training. Sitting in a warm firehouse doesn’t provide the hands on experience the crew needs to be ready for an emergency. Though cold, they want to train in the same environment they will actually be responding too, should an ice rescue present itself. 

“You can tie a knot in our station all day long, but until you can put yourself in situations and train in it you really don’t get the comprehension and understanding of it,” Wyssmann said. “You have to train in the same weather that you are going to have the incidents in. That’s why you will see us train in the hottest part of summer and the coldest winters.” 

The ice rescue training isn’t just a training opportunity for firefighters, but also an opportunity for the fire department to educate the public on the dangers of thin ice in the area. He says just this week, an older gentleman died in Kirwin, after falling through ice. Additionally, a mother and child died after falling through ice on a pond in Moundridge several years ago. With many waterways in McPherson, as well as ponds in the rural areas, it is important for the department to educate the public on the dangers. 

Wyssmann encourages the public to remember that cold temperatures do not guarantee ice on lakes and ponds is safe. Ice can appear solid, but not be safe to skate or walk on. People are also encouraged to follow these guidelines: 

  • Always keep pets on a leash if walking near a partially frozen waterway. If a pet falls through the ice, do not attempt to rescue the animal. Go for help. 
  • Reach-Throw-Go. If a companion falls through the ice and you are unable to reach that person from shore, throw something (rope, jumper cables, tree branch, etc.) to assist with recovery. If this does not work, go for help before you become a victim. Get medical assistance for the victim immediately. 
  • If you fall in the water, try not to panic. Turn toward the direction from which you came. Place your hands and arms on the unbroken surface, working forward by kicking your feet. Once out, remain lying on the ice (do not stand) and roll away from the hole. Crawl back to your tracks, keeping your weight distributed until you return to solid ice.

The McPherson Fire Department has both ice water rescue and swift water rescue response teams. The department has rapid deployment rafts and boats they can get in the water quickly. Wyssman says firefighters have ice rescue suits they can get dressed in route to the emergency, so as soon as they get off the vehicle, they can get in the water quickly. 

“We want to get in the water and execute the rescue as quickly as possible because hypothermia takes hold quickly,” Wyssmann said. 

During the training this week, the fire department practiced all facets of ice rescues. They cut holes in the ice, deployed rafts and practiced harnessing and removing a victim from the icy water. The practice gave all members of the department a chance to fine tune their response skills and ensure they are ready when an actual emergency arises. 

“We see it as fun and exciting to train,” Wyssmann said. “This is our chance to make a difference. If we have that small window of time in an emergency we want to make sure we are effective. In our department, we don’t turn away from problems. We turn into them.”