By Dave Ingram
Firefighters on the Eastern Shore have recently completed their annual ice rescue training and re-certifications. During training, firefighters practice using Ice Commander suits which are waterproof, insulated and floatable. They also learn to use many other items like rope, lights, ice awls, helmets and rescue slings.
During the training, one firefighter will be in the water and play the role of the victim while the others on the team will practice a “rescue.”The first time you are in the water in an Ice Commander suit is an experience you don’t forget. The suit tends to float, especially if there is any water trapped inside, and you have difficulty moving and climbing out of the water onto the ice. That is where the ropes and ice picks come in: by using them properly, the exercise becomes much easier. While you expect to feel the cold water when you jump in, the suit very effectively shields you. The only part of your body that feels uncomfortable is your face.
Here on the Eastern Shore, the water is cold enough at any time of year to cause hypothermia to set in, but it will occur faster in colder water. Hypothermia occurs when you lose enough body heat to make your body temperature subnormal. The symptoms of hypothermia include intense shivering, loss of coordination, mental confusion, weak pulse, irregular heartbeat, and enlarged pupils.
If you should fall through the ice, after the initial shock, try hard to relax. The more energy you expend in the water struggling, the more quickly your body temperature will drop. To minimize body heat loss, do not remove clothing. Instead, button, buckle, zip and tighten collars, cuffs, shoes and hoods. Cover your head if possible and put on a PFD if one is available. The layer of water between your body and the clothing will help to insulate you.
Devote all your efforts to getting out of the water; climb onto a boat, raft, or anything floating. Try to get as much of your body out of the water as possible. Do not attempt to swim, as this will replace the water insulating between your clothing and skin with new cold water and reduce the time you have. Huddle together if you are with other people and remain as still as possible
Interested in becoming a volunteer? Please come to station 24, Riverside Drive, Musquodoboit Harbour, or Station 26, Oyster Pond any Tuesday evening at 7:00 P.M. or call 902-490-5611. Volunteer firefighters assist career firefighters during the weekdays and respond to all calls on nights and weekends.