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Posted: 04/09/14

Members of the Bruce-Romeo Fire Department perform ice rescue exercises on a pond near Romeo Rim, Inc. Above, firefighters pull a "victim" and a rescuer out of a frozen pond; at left, a sling tether is secured to the victim; below, ice rescuer going out to victim; at bottom, the rescuers secure a victim with a sling tether before pulling him to shore.

(Observer photos by Stacy Sobotka)

BT firefighters test new ice rescue equipment

Observer Special Writer
      With the spring thaw taking place, the danger of thin ice is more important than ever.
       Members of the Bruce-Romeo Fire Department performed an ice rescue training exercise on a pond near Romeo Rim, Inc. off Van Dyke Road Saturday morning. 
       The Bruce-Romeo Fire Department was able to test out their new ice rescue equipment, which include thermal survival suits, ropes, slings, and ice awls. The ice awls are nicknamed "spuds" by the firefighters because of their shape. They are attached to the sleeve of the survival suit and have spring loaded steel spikes that help rescuers get across solid ice quickly. The rescue ropes are 75 feet long and have a buoy attached to the end that a victim can grab onto and be pulled to safety.
       The exercises started out with the firefighters going out onto the ice-covered pond and immersing themselves in the freezing waters.
       "They are simulating falling through the ice to see how the victim feels," said Firefighter/Paramedic Dave Witgen.
       Three of the firefighters wore older red survival suits, nicknamed "Gumbys."
       "We call them `Gumbys' because of the (resemblance to the) cartoon character," said Fire Chief Ken Staelgraeve.
       The new suits are made by Imperial International and are designed to allow the rescuers to put them on quickly and keep them warm.
       "The new ones keep you buoyant. They're really warm, and you actually break into a sweat inside the suits," said Witgen.
       Once the rescuer reaches the victim, he can secure a foam sling and tether to the victim. Rescuers always approach the victim from the side to avoid being hit if the victim struggles. The sling can easily be adjusted to fit anyone from a child to a grown man. Once the victim is safely on shore, they are taken to an ambulance and to a hospital to be treated for hypothermia.
       Staelgraeve says his team is ready for a rescue if one occurs.
       "No ice is safe. If there is an accident, we want to be ready for it," he said.

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