ROXBURY, NJ – There are many things firefighters encounter when rescuing people who fall through the ice on not-so-frozen lakes. Dealing with victims that struggle excessively usually isn’t one of them, said Roxbury Township Fire Department 1st Assistant Chief Bill Ward.
Ward said people who fall through ice tend to be very weak by the time help arrives, too tapped-out to put up the type of struggle that sometimes confronts lifeguards in warm water rescues. “From the point where they fall in to the time we get there, they’ve used a lot of their expendable energy” just holding on and shivering, Ward said.
Ward was among about 35 members of the Roxbury Fire Department who took part Saturday and Sunday in an annual training session related to ice rescues. He spoke on the snowy beach of Horseshoe Lake, where he and his colleagues spent about four hours being trained in ice rescue by Team Lifeguard Systems of Shokan, NY.
To yank the victims out of frigid water, rescue workers usually rely on using a “safety ring” that goes over the victims and under their arms, said Ward. The use of the device was just one of the techniques practiced yesterday on, and in, the lake. The participants also practiced using ice sleds, ropes, poles and personal flotation devices.
The lake session Sunday was preceded by nine hours of classroom instruction that took place Saturday and was followed by written tests. With many lakes in their jurisdiction, including a section of Lake Hopatcong, Roxbury’s firefighters and first-aiders need to stay educated and practiced in ice rescue, Ward said.
Chainsaws were used to cut four holes in the Horseshoe Lake ice. All but about 10 of the people attending the training event went into the exposed 30-feet-deep water, alternating between playing victims and their saviors, said Ward. He noted that everybody wore a buoyant ice rescue suit.