RANDOLPH,NJ- For Department Chief Kevin Dunn and his crew of volunteer fire fighters, the cold brings a different set of challenges and situations. With Randolph and the surrounding area home to many bodies of water, a long and cold winter has allowed for the crew to get out on the ice to train for, and inform people about the possible dangers of falling through the ice.
“We train every weekend that we can once there's ice,” said Chief Dunn. “We've been training now for a month. And If we have the weather that we are supposed to have we could be well into April.” Drilling on the ice involves simulating a rescue, by putting geared up rescue personnel into the freezing water, and rotating rescuers and rescue tactics. There are 3 positions in the rescue team: awareness, operational, and technician. There is specific training for a rescuer to be a technician, and be able to get out on the ice.
This past Sunday they were at Randolph's Medham Estates, out on Cifrese Lake, a privately owned lake where Randolph's rescue teams are invited to drill. According to Dunn, "The homeowners here, probably 4 years ago, had asked, 'hey could you come over here and give us an education.' So we've been coming back every year. It's good because we give the public an education on what not to do. Their first instinct is to go out there and save them."
Instead, the rescuers teach that you should call for help, and landmark where that person is, so when the fire department gets there they know where to set up a rescue operation. The last thing the fire department wants is another person through the ice.
Dunn said "We'll give the guys the option for next Sunday, whether they want to take a break or they want to come out. Guaranteed we'll have guys that say, 'oh no lets go because its not too often we get the ice.'” The previous year they only had ice for two drills, this year is an opportunity to make up for lost time.“The ice here has been frozen since probably January, so everybody is used to walking on the ice. Well now once it starts getting warm, they're still going to walk on the ice. And that's when we could have someone go through.”
When it comes to people skating or walking on Randolph's various lakes and ponds, there is not always a system in place for testing and approving of the thickness of the ice. Often times it falls to individual owners or a homeowner association. “A privately owned lake, nobody really has jurisdiction over it. And its unfortunate because, who is going to tell them to stay off it?,” said Chief Dunn.
The township does have authority over Randolph Park, but a large body of water like Shongum Lake is controlled by the homeowners association. Luckily for residents and rescue personnel, there has never been the need for the rescue of a person. But constant vigilance and readiness is priority for the rescue team.
"Our ice rescue team is a seperate team from our regular fire department, it takes higher training and you have to qualify for it," said Company 4 Lieutenant Louis Amaducci. "We come out here on our extra weekends and drill for good practice. We need the practice. . . and get the public involved. Its nice for them to get to see us working."
With experienced voluneers from top to bottom, the residents of Randolph can rest assured that if they do their part to notify the authorities of an emergency, the fire rescue and ice rescue teams will do everything they can to keep them safe.
"We're lucky in this town," said Chief Dunn. "We have 4 fire companies in this town. And each company is very lucky on the personnel we have. But we always need more vounteers. If anybody wants to volunteer, any monday night, go to your local firehouse."