“ALWAYS EXPECT ICE TO BE UNSAFE”
says Scott Holowach, long-time firefighter, EMT, ice rescue technician and ice rescue technician trainer. On Saturday, February 18, 2023 Scott and Dan Reynolds of OBIFD taught an ice rescue course to 12 responders and responders in training from the three Harpswell fire departments. A lecture was held at the Orr’s Island Schoolhouse followed by hands-on, in-the-water training at Pleasant Pond in Richmond, ME. That was the closest place that ice thick enough to stand on could be found.
The outstanding response to this course is a milestone for Harpswell’s fire and rescue. A few years ago Scott was the only ice rescue technician for Harpswell’s fire and rescue. This left a big gap because only trained and certified people should be attempting this sort of rescue with several certified responders involved at each rescue.
There are three levels of certification:
1. Awareness - lecture materials only
2. Operations - on shore readying equipment, helping technicians suit up, pulling patients and rescuers to solid ice or ground with ropes
3. Technicians - who are certified to do all phases of the operation, including in the water in survival suits.
Last year was the first training which produced 3 new technicians, bringing the total to 5. This year 11 new people were certified as ice rescue technicians, and 1 was certified at the operations level.
The first protocol is to try to throw something to the person in the water if possible, such as a rope, stick or ladder. If not possible, technicians are able to enter the icy water in suits while hooked to a rope which is manned by people on shore. To get into the water, they walk on the ice as far as is safe, then proceed on their hands and knees and then on their stomachs so as not to break the ice. The technician then has several options for securing the patient. He/she can wrap their arms around the patient and hold him while being pulled to safety by ropes. Other options are a Stokes basket, a long board and a sling (which binds the patient to the rescuer). The patient and rescuer are always pulled ashore together as a unit.
Most rescues, says Scott, involve either kids falling through the ice or pet owners trying to rescue their pets and falling through. Ice should be at least 4 inches thick in order for skaters, ice fishermen and others to walk on it. Most towns test the ice in their ponds, and people should check with their towns before venturing out on ice.
Dan Reynolds reported, “…..[i]t was great to have turnout from all three departments, and to get to see what gear and operational guidelines each of the three in town departments use. Training like this is key to all of us being able to work together on these types of calls….Everyone in the class was very actively engaged and did an excellent job at showing mastery of their skills.”
From the photographs it appears that this course was not only a learning experience, but a fun time. We at the local departments applaud this large group of responders for their efforts and dedication!
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