Firefighters Immerse Themselves in Ice Rescue Training on the Merrimack

February 26, 2016


Firefighters Andrew Perkins, Kyle Levesque, Jeff Sands, and Sarah Graham and James Lappin

Firefighters Andrew Perkins, Kyle Levesque, Jeff Sands, and Sarah Graham and James Lappin

submitted by David S. Morin, HFD Public Information Liaison

Hudson firefighters spent Jan. 16 through 19 on the ice of the Merrimack River as part of an annual ice rescue training drill. The course, instructed by Joe Mokry of Ocean Systems International, began with classroom study of ice information and strength; ice rescue accidents; immersion hypothermia; equipment; planning and teamwork; and rope handling.

In the afternoon firefighter moved out to the Merrimack River off of Webster Street to complete the practical session of the course. This session covered ice identification, ice rescue suits, self rescue, rescue equipment use, planning, victim rescue, and multi-person rescue.

The location chosen on Webster Street included a very steep river bank and numerous hazards the crews would face during an actual rescue. The rescue process includes an evaluation of the conditions, victims’ conditions, an assessment of personnel and equipment, and the development of an operational plan.

Firefighters practiced self rescue in the frigid water, walking across the thin ice until falling through into moving water. The current of the river pulls rescuers and victims downstream making it difficult to get out of the water.

For the victim rescue scenarios, one firefighter served as a victim in the water, while other firefighters in teams of two donned cold water suits and water rescue equipment and ventured onto the dangerously thin ice to execute a rescue. To complicate the operation, land-based firefighter had to set up rope systems and ladders to bring the victim in a rescue stokes basket up the steep riverbank.

This training has been performed multiple times in Hudson. It is vital that the fire department members complete this course every year. This ensures that they are properly trained on how to perform ice rescue techniques, so they are prepared for the real emergencies.

Individuals who fall through ice may have less than 15 minutes before becoming unconscious. Hypothermia begins immediately, and the cold water takes body heat away 25 times faster than air of the same temperature.

This leaves a very small window for successful intervention, and that is why specialized equipment and training are needed.

In some instances pets have fallen through ice, causing their owner to attempt a rescue and instead becoming a victim themselves.

If an individual falls through ice, they should remain calm and call for help. If it is possible to get back onto the ice, the individual should not stand up, instead should spread out his weight by crawling or rolling to safety.

Bystanders should not go out on the ice to attempt a rescue of someone who has fallen through ice, as they are likely to become victims themselves. Remain on the shore and use a long branch, pole or other object to reach out to the victim. Rescue can also be attempted by throwing a rope, an extension cord or a flotation device such as a cooler to the victim. Call 9-1-1 immediately to have the fire department respond as seconds make a difference.