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Hannibal Courier - Post - Hannibal, MO
  • Training on ice: Firefighters practice frigid-water rescue techniques

  • Thursday morning a pickup truck came to a halt near the Huckleberry Park pond. A man jumped out of the vehicle and started yelling for the individuals he saw standing in the middle of the pond to get off the ice.
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    Thursday morning a pickup truck came to a halt near the Huckleberry Park pond. A man jumped out of the vehicle and started yelling for the individuals he saw standing in the middle of the pond to get off the ice.
    What the motorist didn’t realize was that the men he spotted were members of the Hannibal Fire Department’s Swift Water Rescue Team. And while the pond’s water was anything but swift, it provided firefighters with a valuable training opportunity.
    “This is classified as one of those low frequency, high risk type of events that don’t happen often, but nevertheless would be under the umbrella of responsibility of the Hannibal Fire Department,” said Fire Chief Bill Madore. “We’re taking advantage of the opportunity today to work through the process and make mistakes in training so when or if the real event happens we’re better prepared for that.”
    Ice rescue responses haven’t been frequent, according to Madore.
    “We’ve had a handful of calls over the years,” he said. “Luckily the citizens have been very situationally aware and tend to stay off the ice because they don’t know its depth and what its capacity is going to be.”
    With temperatures on the rise, and more people venturing outdoors, Madore is concerned that some individuals will be tempted to venture out onto ice.
    “I’d be very cautious of any and all ice, especially with the warmer temperatures,” he said. “I would only go where the ice (thickness) has been evaluated.”
     
    Thick ice
     
    Thin ice was not an issue on Thursday for firefighters. In fact, at 10 to 12 inches thick, the pond’s ice was not ideal, according to Engineer Ben Devlin, a member of the swift water group.
    “We were hoping to get situations where the ice would crack as we were trying to pull ourselves out,” he said, explaining that if the ice is thin enough to not support a person, it likely would continue to break every time the individual attempted to pull himself or herself out of the water. “Maybe we’ll do this again in a few weeks or months when it’s a little warmer and the ice is thinning out a little bit.”
    While the ice wasn’t cooperating, the day was far from a waste.
    “This gives us as good opportunity to get some suit time and see what they’re capable of,” said Devlin.
    Page 2 of 2 - “When we talk about this type of specialized response, part of that is knowing our equipment and gear, and knowing our limitations, both as far as our personal protective equipment and as individuals when you’re dealing with cold water and temperatures,” added Madore.
    According to Devlin, the only thing found wanting equipment-wise were the gloves firefighters were wearing.
     “We’re realizing our gloves are way too thin. They’re swift water rescue gloves, not ice gloves,” he said. “Except for my hands I’m not cold at all.”
    In addition to being fussed at by a passing motorist, firefighters had to contend with ducks and geese, which were not anxious to be sharing a small patch of open water.
    “It was a struggle at first,” said Devlin of getting time in the water.
    “They’ve been ‘barking’ at us a lot,” he added, laughing.
     
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