A prolonged spell of ice cold weather can be beneficial in at least one way.
For some firefighters, it can afford a chance – perhaps their only one of the year – to get in some ice rescue training.
Friday afternoon, personnel from Independence Fire Station 2 made the lake at Waterfall Park next to Bass Pro Shops and Stoney Creek Hotel & Conference Center their training site. Firefighters had also trained there the previous two days, as indicated by the two holes that had frozen back over. Friday they wanted a hole farther out into the water.
Captain Rick Ashley said they try to get some training once a year, but the weather needs to cooperate for that.
“Sometimes you just have a warm winter; you need to get good solid ice,” he said.
Friday it was solid enough they needed a chainsaw to create a hole. After the training runs, Mykel Anne Jones said she estimated the ice 3 to 4 inches thick. One veteran firefighter on the shore jokingly suggested a cannonball jump to finish the hole.
While the first participants changed into the waterproof rescue suits, which also provide some buoyancy, Ashley walked through how to get behind the victim who has fallen through the ice, then secure them with the second rope carried out while crawling on the ice.
“Once you feel like you've got the victim secure, go like this,” he said, making an overhead throwing-like motion. “That means 'Bring me in.' Then you hang onto the victim.”
The firefighters on the bank then pull in both ropes as the victim and rescuer slide along the ice. Rotating among a group of firefighters, they did a half-dozen training runs. A couple of them played both victim and rescuer, and veteran Joe Mike Giambrone was a victim more than once, as he could tutor a first-timer even while bobbing in the middle of the lake.
The whole point is to get some form of experience under one's belt.
“I've done it a few times,” Giambrone said. “We have three or four new guys.”
While Waterfall Park had thick enough ice to walk near the middle, people are not allowed on the lake regardless of how thick the ice is, and those who work in public safety generally discourage going out on open-water ice, since it's difficult to gauge thickness. Temperatures, time, water depth and wind all factor into that.
For the same reason training opportunities are few in Missouri – compared to northern Minnesota or Michigan's Upper Peninsula, for example – opportunities to safely walk on ice likely are fewer. If ice rescue training isn't possible, some might simply do cold-water rescues as Central Jackson County Fire Protection District has done at Lake Remembrance in Blue Springs. The Lee's Summit Fire Department has used Lakewood for ice rescue training.
Three years ago, a group of Independence firefighters had to do the real thing after two teenagers tried walking across the Waterfall Park lake, which was frozen over but had thinned after a couple days of temperatures in the 40s. The boys fell in, and an Independence police officer happened to be closest to the scene and had started to crawl out on the ice when firefighters arrived in their rescue suits and took over the rescue and ultimately fell through themselves.
The Old Farmer's Almanac's rough guidelines say ice that is 2 inches thick or less is not safe, 3-4 inches of clear ice is OK for one person or a single-file line people to walk, and ice fishing and ice skating requires at least 4 inches. Snowmobiles and ATVs require 5-6 inches and cars and small trucks nearly a foot.