Troy firefighters train in ice rescue techniques at Sylvan Glen Lake Feb. 16.

Troy firefighters train in ice rescue techniques at Sylvan Glen Lake Feb. 16.

Photo provided by the Troy Fire Department


Troy firefighters put safety on ice

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published February 26, 2019

 Troy firefighters train in cold water rescue suits to understand the aquatic environment, different types of ice and the associated hazards.

Troy firefighters train in cold water rescue suits to understand the aquatic environment, different types of ice and the associated hazards.

Photo provided by the Troy Fire Department

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While Troy residents are pretty good about not venturing out onto the ice for recreation in wintertime, they have been known to do so to save a beloved pet. 

Troy Assistant Fire Chief Chuck Riesterer said that’s why the Troy Fire Department rescues animals that fall through the ice in the small inland lakes in Troy. 

“We do those because people go out and fall through the ice,” he said. 

Troy firefighters from all six of the city’s fire stations, a total of 25 firefighters, completed ice rescue technician training the weekend of Feb. 16–17 at Sylvan Glen Lake. 

Riesterer said that firefighters were trained to understand the aquatic environment, different types of ice and associated hazards; how to recognize hypothermia and handle a hypothermia
patient; and how to rescue a victim using ice rescue equipment. 

Troy firefighters have used cold water entry suits and rescue slings to assist with ice rescues several times over the years, Riesterer said. 

“People need to take a look at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration hypothermia information on their website,” Riesterer said. 

• Roughly 20 percent of those who fall into cold water die in the first minute of immersion due to cold water shock. 

• Strong swimmers will lose muscle control in about 10 minutes in cold water. 

• Body heat can be lost 25 times faster in cold water than in cold air. 

• Wearing a life jacket significantly increases the chances for survival. 

According to NOAA’s website, “Warm air doesn’t necessarily mean the water is warm. Survival time is greatly diminished for someone immersed in water below 70 degrees. Warm air temperatures can create a false sense of security for boaters and beachgoers. When cold water makes contact with your skin, cold shock causes an immediate loss of breathing control. This dramatically increases the risk of sudden drowning even if the water is calm and you know how to swim. The danger is even greater if the water is rough. Immersion in cold water is immediately life-threatening for anyone not wearing thermal protection, like a wetsuit or drysuit, and not wearing a life jacket.”

Riesterer said that knowing cold water immersion principles can greatly increase people’s chances for survival. “Remember the 1-10-1 Principle,” he said. 

The 1-10-1 Principle was coined by Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht, according to NOAA. The descriptions are based on material from the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Park Service, and may be found at weather.gov/safety/coldwater. You have:

• 1 minute to control your breathing. “Many people hyperventilate, faint and drown before they are able to calm down their breathing,” states the NOAA website. 

• 10 minutes of muscle control. “If you can’t get out of the water within 10 minutes, stop moving and get into the Heat Escape Lessening Position,” where knees are drawn up to the chest and arms pressed to the sides, if wearing a flotation device. 

• 1 hour until hypothermia sets in. “Most cold water deaths occur well before this point — only those wearing a life jacket will survive longer than 10 minutes in most cases.”

According to the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office’s Marine Division, people should “survey the ice, keeping in mind that ice conditions change day by day, lake by lake and location by location on the same body of water. Some signs of changing ice conditions can be, but are not limited to: moving
water near a stream, river, unseen spring or inlet; slushy areas; depressions in the snow; heavy snow; white, ‘milky’ or black-colored ice; and ‘frazzle,’ ice weakened by the freeze-thaw cycles. Frazzle ice is pocketed with tiny air pockets and often looks like frozen slush. These are all signs of thin ice or unsafe ice.” 

Also, “If someone falls through the ice, do not run to the hole. First call 911 and get help on the way and then use a pole, branch, rope or any other handy object, which can be extended to the victim from a safe position.You cannot help if you also become a victim.” 

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