January 3, 2013 at 8:11 a.m.
Chisago fire and rescue volunteers were finally able to get out onto frozen Little Green for an ice rescue drill. About 10 feet from the public access shore on Little Green Lake. Chisago City firefighters cut a hole through six inches of ice near midday Dec. 22, past winters have gotten colder faster in town. Department training chief John Guse said the crew has had to drill through 2-3 feet of ice in other years, for an early winter exercise where participants submerge themselves while their colleagues on the crew move quickly to “rescue” them from the subzero water. Of 15 fire and rescue volunteers from Chisago for trainging Saturday, two were new to the department in 2012 and earning their ice rescue certifications through two hours of classroom work back at the station followed by nearly three hours at the lake. Guse said it is a popular annual event among the veterans. “The water rescuing they seem to really like,” he said.
“They tend to show up.” The Chisago crew welcomed back training veteran and long-time Inver Grove Heights fire training chief Dan Bernardy, founder of Rescuepax all-terrain technical rescue, as the instructor. With the ice depth six inches 10 feet out from shore, Bernardy said the Department of Natural Resources recommends a four-inch minimum cover for safe snowmobiling, though experts will say there’s no such thing as “safe” on frozen water. “If you go out, expect that you could go in,” Bernardy mentioned while standing on the lake. In some ways, parents and other adults should treat a trip for ice fishing just as they would a summer boat ride for fishing or water skiing, he added. For example, “do not let children out on the ice without wearing a PFD (personal floatation device),” he said. That’s sound advice for everyone, actually. Bernardy recommends that anyone driving or walking onto ice wear a PFD, and when in a car or truck. The driver and passengers will want to have been additionally prepared by leaving their windows rolled down and the seat belts unbuckled – allowing the quickest route to the surface and relative safety as possible.
Along with their PFDs, lake users in the winter should also carry a set of retractable ice picks either home made or commonly sold by sporting goods stores, Bernardy said – “Without a set of picks, you’ll never get out of the water.” The Chisago participants went through a series of drills Dec. 22 to simulate potential high- and low-angle rescue scenarios. “Situational awareness is something they get sick of hearing me talk about, but that’s what it takes,” Bernardy said. “Every incident on the ice will be unique. Falling through the ice is not like (suffering) a cut finger or heart attack.” With the Chisago area being home to its fair share of the state’s many lakes, Guse said he is pleasantly surprised that the city’s fire and rescue volunteers don’t receive more calls year after year for helping others from the ice. “In an average year, we maybe get two,” he said. “It’s a tribute to people in this area. They seem to understand (the dangers). People are getting a little smarter.” Chisago City is reimbursed for the costs of this annual drill by the Minnesota Fire Training Board.
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