ERIE, Pa – Now you can really feel it, winter is quickly apporaching. It’s the time when first responders begin ice rescue training.
The US Coast Guard, local fire departments, and park rangers took part in an annual “Ice Jamboree” training session. Zane Newell, the Executive Petty Officer at the US Coast Guard Station in Erie explains, “It’s kinda like a show and tell of what our capabilities are and how we can improve from year to year. “
It’s important for local fire departments to know proper ice rescue procedures, because they’re usually the first ones on scene. “There’s a lot more fire departments than there is coast guard. We’re the only coast guard from Fanbeer Point, New York all the way to Conneaut, Ohio during ice season,” says Chief of the US Coast Guard Station in Erie, Daniel Heitzer.
A key piece of equipment for ice rescues is called an RDC. It looks similar to a white water raft with a small propane engine. “It was designed and used for the ice community up here on the great lakes,” explains Heitzer.
Because the lake isn’t frozen over just yet, crews trained using a simulated ice shelf made of Styrofoam. Heitzer says, “It’s a simple piece of equipment, but highly effective piece of equipment that you can do in a pool in a highly controlled environment and they can get some quality training out of it.”
First responders use s piece of equipment called a sling during rescues The loop the device around the person being rescued and then using their body weight, they pull them out of the water. Heitzer swears by the device, “It’s tested, it’s true, we go out there, we use it, it works. It’s quite literally a pool noodle with a strap pulled through it.”
But before any of this equipment is needed, the coast guard urges the public to do two simple things:
Newell explains, “What ice fishermen should do is just check the ice thickness before they go on the ice to be sure it’s safe to be on.”
Heitzer adds, “A lot of people, unfortunately, aren’t wearing their life jacket… they should be. You should look at your life jacket as like the seatbelt of the water.”
Fortunately, ice rescues are rare here in Erie, but you can never be too prepared.