CRANBURY, NJ – “Do not make us have to do this,” Township Committeeman Jay Taylor jokingly cautioned, his breath visible in the frigid air as he stood lakeside in brightly colored water rescue gear.
During Sunday morning's training exercise on Brainerd Lake, Taylor, who is also a volunteer with the Cranbury Volunteer Fire Company, said that residents should always be mindful of posted signs at the lake.
“No skating means no skating,” he said.
Although temperatures hovered in the 30s, with grey skies and periodic light rain, ice was nowhere to be found on the water, as about 21 participants from fire companies in Cranbury, Plainsboro and Hightstown reported for what was supposed to be an ice rescue training exercise.
According to Chief Michael Kervan, the lack of ice on the lake wasn't a problem for the purposes of the training.
“The skill set is the same whether we have ice or not,” he said. “So we can still do the training in the water and we can even do some of the training on land.”
Conducted once every three years, Chief Kervan said that the training is not state-mandated, but is an internal training the company does to better protect residents.
“Luckily we haven't had anybody go through the ice in Cranbury that I can remember,” he said. “We're ready if we ever do have to do it – we have a body of water, not only the lake here, but we have ponds back in the woods and on the farms – so we have the potential, and we're trained and we have the equipment, but we'd rather not have to.”
Participants went through two exercises during the training, according to Chief Kervan.
In the first simulation, a single person was trapped on the ice and was rescued by a single person on a sled. In the second, participants simulated a rescue involving either a really long distance or multiple victims.
Bundled up against the cold in hats and gloves, hoods and boots, and a multitude of layers, participants zipped and unzipped their way in and out of full body water rescue suits, helping each other adjust their gear as they readied for each part of the training.
The unforgiving weather didn't discourage two township families from coming out to support their sons.
Celeste Stewart, 56, said the exercise was her son Nicholas' first ice rescue training.
“He's being trained and he's 18 so he just joined the department,” she said. “He's very interested in community service. Since he's been very young, he's had a fascination with the fire department.”
A licensed fire inspector in New Jersey with a longtime connection to the Cranbury fire company, Nicholas' father, Dan, 67, said he and his wife are very proud of him.
“It's an honor for our son to continue the tradition of working with the fire department,” he said.
For Patty Kraws, 52, the ice rescue training was also a new experience, as her son Trevor, 18, also recently joined the company.
“I'm very proud of him, I think it's a pretty nice thing to do for your town,” she said. “He absolutely loves it, he said it's a great group of people to work with and he's learning a lot.”
Joining at 17 as a junior firefighter, Trevor just turned 18, she said, and is ready to take fire courses.
Having completed the training, company members broke down and stowed all the gear and returned to the firehouse to begin the process of cleaning and restoring the equipment to a state of readiness.
As their fellow company members quickly got to work around them, new members Trevor and Nicholas both said their first ice rescue training was a positive experience.
“Today was a cool experience, I'm really happy that we could give back and help out,” Trevor said. “It's nice to know that everybody here are ordinary people, just like us, and they're dedicating their time to helping everybody else.”
Trevor credits his neighbor, who is a firefighter with the company, for inspiring him to get involved.
Nicholas said the training was a more productive way to spend a Sunday than some.
“It's definitely practical for around here, because in the northeast we always get snow and ice and if you have the option to do that (learn ice rescue techniques), why not take advantage of it?” he said.
Coming on the heels of his “awesome” ice rescue training, Nicholas said he thinks fire school will be a great opportunity to make friends in the fire industry, while learning how to protect both himself and other people in the community.
When asked what it was like out on the water, Trevor said, “It was pretty chilly!”
According to Chief Kervan, both young men begin fire school Monday.