2012-01-05 / Local & State

Warm Winter Creates Danger On The Ice

Ice emergency incidents prompt National Drowning Prevention Alliance to warn: Stay off frozen bodies of water

Winter has barely started, yet already more than 10 incidents involving falls through ice, several of them fatal, have been reported in the news media. Experts blame unseasonably warm temperatures and alternate freezing and thawing for the dangerous conditions.

“We urge everyone to stay off all frozen bodies of water,” said Kim Burgess, executive director of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance, a national nonprofit focused on reducing drowning deaths and injuries. “The perceived recreational benefit is simply not worth the risk to yourself or your loved ones.”

“It’s also important to prevent pets from roaming onto ice,” adds NDPA board member Gerald M. Dworkin, an aquatics safety and water rescue consultant at Lifesaving Resources LLC. “More than half of ice emergency 9-1-1 calls are triggered by people trying to save a pet who fell through ice. Never attempt to rescue an animal yourself, but rather, call 9-1- 1.”

“Ice seldom freezes uniformly,” explains Dworkin. “It will be thinner when it has formed over moving water, and where it surrounds partially submerged objects such as rocks or tree limbs.” He adds that snow-covered ice, and ice that has thawed and refrozen is not as strong as new, clear, hard ice.

Dworkin offers the following self-rescue and response tips:

If you fall through ice – Don't try to climb out immediately. Instead, kick to get horizontal in the water with your legs behind your torso. Then, try to pull yourself forward onto solid ice.

Once out of the water, roll away and avoid standing until you are several body lengths away from the ice break.

A set of ice picks is an ideal safety tool for rescuers and victims alike. When the ice pick is jammed on the ice, the retractable sheath exposes the pick. This allows a rescuer to crawl out to the victim, or gives a victim the opportunity to crawl his way out of the ice hole.

When trying to rescue a person who has fallen through ice:

Call, or have someone call 9-1-1 first.

Try to improvise a throwing assist, such as an empty jug with a line attached.

If going onto ice to reach a victim is unavoidable, use a device to distribute the rescuer’s weight over a wide area.

Use a reaching assist, such as a branch or hockey stick, to extend the reach of the rescuer and prevent him or her from being dragged into the water by the victim.

“All fire, rescue, EMS, and law enforcement personnel should be trained and equipped for ice rescue,” says Dworkin. “Ice rescue suits, ice picks, water rescue rope, and an animal control stick are the minimum equipment needed.”

These are some of the ice emergency incidents reported by the media this year.

Two young girls near Hutchinson, Kan., were rescued after falling through thin ice on Christmas Day.

Two men in Otter Tail County, Minn., were rescued after they fell through ice in separate incidents, December 23 and 26.

Dan Toya, 64, of Grant County, Wash., and his dog have been missing since December 23 and are believed to have drowned after falling through ice.

About 20 anglers on Mille Lacs Lake in Atkin County, Minn., were rescued after being stranded on a floating ice sheet on December 21.

Kevin Holloway, 50, of Green River, Wyo., drowned on December 21 while ice fishing.

George McDonough, 69, of Stephenson, Wis., drowned on Dec. 20 while ice fishing.

Austin Werbelow, 15, of Oshkosh, Wis., drowned on December 19 when he walked out on a lake.

John McAllister, 37, of Dunbartonshire, UK, drowned on December 18 while trying to rescue his dog.

Wilmer Eicher, 7, of Alexandria, Miss., drowned on December 11 while playing on a pond.

David Finnegan, 46, of Idaho Falls, Idaho, drowned on December 9 when he tried to rescue his dog.

Monte Menard, 48, of Lake Winipegosis, Canada, drowned on December 11 when his snowmobile fell through the ice.

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