Democrat File Photo
NO, THIS IS not real but it was darn close. Firefighters from Lake Huntington, Youngsville, Fallsburg, Rock Hill, Roscoe and even New Jersey gathered on the shore of Lake Huntington Sunday to train for the inevitable in a county filled with water. The firefighter on the left is testing the ice as he gingerly steps toward a “victim” who has already managed to extricate himself from a hole in the foot-thick ice.
for ice rescues
By Dan Hust
LAKE HUNTINGTON Saturday and Sunday’s ice rescue training for Sullivan County firefighters was exhausting.
Many of the 36 trainees had found themselves fighting a fire in Callicoon Saturday night.
Yet even with just two or three hours of sleep, the members of the Lake Huntington, Youngsville, Fallsburg, Rock Hill, Roscoe and Leona, New Jersey, fire departments gamely threw themselves into the cold weather and cold water in Lake Huntington on Sunday.
Saturday had been a day of classroom training, while Sunday turned out to be a wintry scene of on-ice practice.
Passersby on Route 52 slowed down to watch well-insulated firefighters inch their way across the frozen surface of the lake to their colleagues, swimming in holes cut in the foot-thick ice.
The “victims” cried as convincingly as the real versions, lending a frighteningly realistic atmosphere amidst the falling snowflakes.
On shore, Team Lifeguard Systems Vice President Andrea Zaferes yelled for rescuers to stay on their bellies as they slid towards the men and women floating in freezing water.
“No ice is safe ice,” she said of the mantra of the day.
Youngsville Fire Chief Rick Graham, who initiated the classes, and Lake Huntington Fire Chief Jason Kraack, who hosted, said such training is incredibly important in a county full of lakes and streams.
“It allows everybody to learn before there’s an incident,” said Kraack. “It’s as realistic as can be.”
Sheriff Michael Schiff, who was observing, was impressed and grateful.
“We really rely on the fire departments, their training and their equipment,” he said.
But that equipment comes at a cost, said Graham. A rescue sled, insulated suit, rope, and ring buoy averages around $2,500.
So just like these firefighters going “above and beyond the required training,” Graham and Kraack hope residents will go above and beyond regular donations and taxes and help their local fire companies purchase the equipment necessary to avoid what Zaferes said is the second most common cause of death for children and the third most common for adults.
“And a good half of the people who die are ‘freelance’ rescuers,” she added.
According to Zaferes, a flotation device and awls are imperative for anyone venturing out onto the ice. But she’s also insistent that only trained responders attempt an ice rescue.
“If a child falls through the ice, you’re absolutely going to fall through,” she explained. “Do not go out there!”
Instead, dial 911, and if you have to leave the area to do so, drop a rock or other marker on the ground and point it toward a distant object. This will give rescuers the needed reference points should the victim be underwater by the time they arrive.
If you can stay with the victim, find out if anyone else is with them and perhaps under the ice. Tell them to hold onto the ice, kick their feet to remain horizontal, and breathe warm air by holding a hand over their nose.
Throwing a rope or even a tire iron to the victim can give them a chance to haul themselves out of the ice.
“Be as creative as you can,” Zaferes said.
All the while, shout words of encouragement using the victim’s name, understanding that people with such “mental lifelines” have survived in icy waters for as long as 45 minutes longer than the response times of even the more rural area fire departments.
And when those responders do arrive, rest in the knowledge that, thanks to this past weekend’s training, they’ll be certified to handle the situation and get everyone out of it alive.