LETHBRIDGE, AB – With temperatures rising, ice is getting thinner.
At Henderson Lake on Friday, Lethbridge Fire and Emergency Services held an ice rescue training exercise, which members of the media were able to attend.
As part of the exercise, fire crews drilled two large holes into the water at the lake. Participants crawled their way, while holding an ice-rescue board, towards and across the first hole of water on route to retrieving a “victim”, played by a fellow team member, trapped in the second area of exposed water.
The “victim” is then lifted on to the board along with the rescuer and they are dragged back to the start of the course by their team members.
Crews also took part in self-rescue simulations, so they know how to get out of the water if they themselves become trapped.
“We do this training once a year. We do it for about 40 members on the fire department and once these members take this course, they’ll be certified for two years,” said Ice Rescue Team Lead Brendon Pyne.
He explained that the water-safe suits members wear are fit for minus-60 degree Celsius weather.
Pyne added that the weather conditions create different challenges for crews.
“When the ice is going to start thawing, with the warmer temperatures and people are out walking their dogs, they’re going to go out on the water and that’s when issues start to arise,” he said.
“The main message is as soon as temperatures start rising, stay off the ice and don’t let your pets on the ice. In the event that your pets do go through the ice, phone 911. We will come and do pet rescue, and we do wild animal rescues as well.”
Pyne implored people to not attempt a rescue themselves but had some advice for anyone who should ever happen to get trapped in the water.
“Once the initial shock is done, try to make yourself visible – wave your arms, be loud, be seen so people can see you and try to remain as calm as you can to maintain your body heat – so not too much movement, stay nice and slow after you’ve gotten someone’s attention.”
He said that he expects to receive some emergency response calls of this nature later this season as the ice begins to thaw.
“If it becomes a recovery situation (someone stuck underwater as opposed to above), then it comes an ice diving (response). The Lethbridge Fire Department, we don’t do ice diving, so we must bring in an outside agency to bring in their ice divers. We’ve never had one since I’ve been on the department.”
According to Pyne, about 70 to 80 Lethbridge firefighters are trained at the technician level of ice rescue. The entire department, however, is trained at the operational level.
The operations crews work along the shoreline, get crews ready to go into the water and tend to victims once they’re out of the water. The technicians are the crew members who go out into the water.
The idea of going into icy waters can seem scary to some, but Pyne said with his years of experience and training provided, the entire team feels quite comfortable doing it.
“This is what we do for a job, we help people. We’re quite prepared for it.”
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