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Fort Erie’s firefighters plunge into frigid water to prepare for ice emergencies

On a weekend when most people were busy preparing for Super Bowl Sunday festivities, Fort Erie’s firefighters gave up their time to plunge into icy cold water, so they know what to do if someone falls in.

Members of the Fort Erie Fire Department could be spotted out on the ice near Miller’s Creek Marina on Sunday morning simulating real-life rescue situations to make sure they’re prepared in the event of an emergency.

Deputy Fire Chief Jeremy Inglis said Sunday was the second day of an annual two-day training course led by three instructors for the fire department’s volunteer firefighters. They also spent Saturday morning training on ice near the Bertie Boat Club in Crystal Beach.

Before they ever touched the water, the firefighters dressed in brightly coloured waterproof ice rescue suits that provided a much-needed layer of protection in the frigid temperatures.

Once they ensured the ice was safe to walk on, they took turns practicing the necessary maneuvers to extract a “victim” from the water.

“Mother Nature co-operated this weekend and gave us some good ice and some good weather for it,” Inglis said Sunday morning.

“Right now, we’re doing tandem rescues with a (rescue) basket, so we’re sending in two rescuers in to retrieve a victim that’s in the water and remove them out of the water using the basket.”

Christian Kates, who has been a member of Fort Erie’s fire department for about one year, was “pleasantly surprised” as to how warm his gear has kept him warm during training.

He said he hopes to never have to use his ice water training but practicing those important skills has been a lot of fun.

“Everyone is pumped to get in the water and we’ve learned a lot about what to do in an emergency.”

Thankfully, the fire department hasn’t needed to use its training to make an ice water rescue since 2015. But that doesn’t make the training any less important.

“A lot of the same techniques we can use when we’re doing water rescues in the summer,” the deputy fire Chief explains.

Last year, the fire department had 16 calls for its boat and water rescue team. Nine of those calls were to assist Buffalo with the search and rescue of drowning victims.

“On that side, we had three drownings last year; two of those calls we had unfortunate results where we weren’t able to revive (the victims). The third one, we managed to revive,” Inglis said.

There is always a risk for first responders, but the training provides an opportunity to reinforce the proper precautions to keep everyone safe.

“As long as we take the proper precautions and we have enough team members in place, we eliminate a lot of those risks,” Inglis said.

In the event of a real emergency, Inglis said a victim can be pulled from the water in about 10 minutes; that includes the time it takes for first responders to get dressed in their rescue gear and pulling a victim to shore.

When it comes to safety, Inglis said it’s important to use common sense.

“Don’t take vehicles out on the ice on your own,” the deputy fire Chief said.

Ice fishermen should always wear a personal floatation device, and anytime people plan to be out on the water, they should tell someone where they’re going.

“Make sure you let someone know where you’re going to be on the water, so if you don’t check in with that person, we know where to go to find you (in the event of an emergency),” he said.

The signs and stages of Hypothermia

– The first stage of hypothermia includes shivering, reduced circulation

– The second stage includes a slow, weak pulse, slowed breathing, lack of coordination, confusion and sleepy behaviour.

– The advanced stage includes slow, weak or absent respiration and pulse. The person may lose consciousness.

If you find yourself in the water

– Wear a personal flotation device or life jacket to help stay afloat and keep your head out of the water.

– Swim only if you can join others or reach safe shelter. Do not swim to keep yourself warm. This will only increase your loss of body heat.

– If you can climb on top of a floating object (such as your craft) to keep as much of your body as possible out of the water. Frigid water will lower your body temperature faster than the air.

– Assume the fetal position, or if you’re not alone, huddle together.

— Stats from the Government of Canada


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