By Tom Vines
Published Tuesday, April 1, 2008
| From the April 2008 Issue of FireRescue
This winter saw a number of ice rescues—usually the result of individuals venturing onto frozen waterways where the ice was too thin to support them. Ice rescues require quick and efficient operations, along with appropriate training and equipment to ensure rescuers don’t also become victims.
On Jan. 10, the Oshkosh (Wis.) Fire Department managed a swift and effective water-rescue operation. At 1133 hrs, a 911 cell phone call to the Winnebago Country Sheriff’s Office Dispatch Center reported two people in the water on Lake Winnebago. Sheriff’s Dispatch relayed the call to the Oshkosh Fire Department, and at 1139 hrs, the department dispatched Command 15, Engine 15, Heavy Rescue 15, Boat 15 on a trailer towed by the water rescue truck, Quint 14 and Engine 15, as well as Medic 16 and Medic 17. The Omro Rushford (Wis.) Volunteer Fire Department also responded with its hovercraft.
Firefighters arriving on scene at 1141 hrs observed at least two people in the water, with the possibility of two more, about three-quarters of a mile from shore. Witnesses said they had seen the men, ice fishermen, riding 4-x-4 ATVs toward thin ice that extends out from the mouth of the Fox River, when they broke through the ice. One man fell through the ice on his ATV, and then the other man fell in as he tried to rescue his friend. The ice was about 2 inches thick near the mouth of the river. One of the men in the water was able to call 911 on his cell phone.
The men were too far out for a shore-based rescue, so firefighters deployed a Husky Airboat with a Kevlar hull designed for ice deployment. Aboard were four rescuers, each wearing Mustang rescue dry suits. Additionally, the department’s dive team—two members suited up and ready to deploy—waited on shore with a dive operations officer.
The rescuers positioned the boat more than 50 feet from the men to avoid breaking up the ice the men were clinging to. Rescuers in dry suits deployed tethers and pulled the two men onto the ice, then into the boat. The first victim was in the boat 17 minutes after units arrived on scene, and the second was pulled from the water 3 minutes later. Both men were transported by ground ambulance to the Mercy Medical Center in Oshkosh.
Firefighters in the hovercraft made a sweep of the area to ensure no other persons were in the water. The initial sighting of possibly two other victims in the water was likely the ATVs and other debris in the water. All units cleared by 1304 hrs.
Sources: Oshkosh Fire Department Battalion Chief Mark Boettcher provided information for this report. Some additional details were taken from an account in The Northwestern.
LESSONS LEARNED/LESSONS REINFORCED:
Chief Boettcher says that when responding to ice rescues, the department makes certain there are at least two rescue craft on scene capable of being deployed on ice.
He says that this operation went well because they had an adequate number of companies assigned to make a good response and assessment of the situation. Additionally, during the initial part of the rescue, one of the men in the water was able to stay in touch with the 911 center and therefore knew that help was on the way.
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