OGDEN — As the snow fell on a cold January day, a handful of trained professionals practiced for the worst, ready to jump in when needed.
On Tuesday afternoon, about a dozen first rescue workers from the Riverdale Fire Department and the Weber Fire District gathered at Ogden’s 21st Street Pond to practice ice rescues. The departments train periodically to make sure that first responders are at the top of their games.
The two departments have been training for the past week, the conditions changing every day, according to Weber Fire Captain Chris Whetton. In some spots, the ice was thick and could easily support a man’s weight. In other spots, one could quickly fall through.
“You really never know, especially with how weak the ice is,” Whetton said. “We experienced today guys just falling through.”
Lately, these first responders have been lucky: They haven’t been called out for an ice rescue so far this winter. But that doesn’t keep these men from training regularly, making sure their equipment is working properly and keeping their skills honed.
During several rounds, a well-covered, life jacketed crew member would make his way out onto the ice. Once everyone was ready, the crew member jumped, or fell, through the ice and send the other responders into action.
A yellow-clad first responder would then walk, crawl or swim to the purported victim, before trying to hand them a boogie board with a rope attached at the top. Whetton said that it’s normal for the ice not to be able to support their body weight, and crawling on all fours distributes the weight.
Each time, the “victim” would say he couldn’t feel his hands, causing the rescuer to jump in the water and secure a rope around the victim. Once secured, several men onshore would pull the duo to safety. If done correctly, the two would slide across the ice until just before reaching shore.
It’s clear that the group are trained professionals who have done this before. But Whetton said that each training carries the possibility of injuries or first responders getting stuck.
“We always take it very seriously,” Whetton said. “We always prepare, and that’s why we’re out here today, is to prepare for an emergency like that so we can be as safe as possible, but also help the victim as fast as possible.”
They stay ready, because you never know when someone could fall through the ice and need help. Just before they began training, Whetton said they came across a man ice fishing a few feet from where a firefighter would fall through the ice during training.
Whetton said their departments want to get the word out on how to stay safe when around water, or ice, this winter. If the ice at the shoreline can support you, typically that’s a good sign the ice farther out is safe, too, Whetton said. He added that bodies of water in higher elevations, like Pineview Reservoir, are safer bets for those looking to ice fish.
“You’ll hear cracking whether it’s good ice or bad ice, so that’s not necessarily always a good sign,” Whetton said.
If you do fall through, keep your cool. The faster you move your limbs and exert energy, the faster your body temperature drops. Your best bet would be to try and climb out, roll onto the ice and move slowly to the shore. If you see someone fall through the ice, try to use a tree limb or rope instead of going in the water. Whetton said often times if someone else goes into the water, it can become a two-victim situation instead of just one.
Ice conditions can shift quickly, Whetton said. Even something like the sun coming out for a few minutes can made the difference between good or bad ice.
Regardless of where you’re at, everyone should be cautious while out on ice. Whetton said you need at least three inches of ice to support someone’s body weight.
“It’s just so unpredictable where it’s safe and where it’s not down here,” Whetton said.