WAHOO – The blustery wind made the air much colder than the water below the 12-inch thick ice on Lake Wanahoo as members of three local fire departments took part in ice rescue training Sunday morning.
Yutan Fire Department’s Joe Vandenack led the training for members of his department, as well as Wahoo and Valley.
The first responders donned wetsuits to plunge into a rectangular hole cut into the ice by the instructors. In pairs, they first learned how to get themselves out of the water. Then they learned how to rescue an individual from the icy water.
They also learned skills that would enable them to talk the victim through pulling themselves out of the water.
“The goal is always, can I get this person to help themselves and get out,” Vandenack said.
As one rescuer made their way slowly out onto the frozen lake, another stayed on shore to call to the victim, asking questions and directing them how to cooperate with the first responder. Other firefighters on shore held the rope, and when the rescuer had the victim in the correct position, they pulled them out.
In addition to the rescue training, the event gave the first responders experience in the wet suits, Vandenack said. Wet suits are used in almost every water rescue, he explained, because water temperatures in large bodies of water are generally below 72 degrees, the temperature that is considered “cold” water.
“The Yutan Dive Team and water rescue teams use those suits anytime there’s water,” he said.
In addition to Sunday morning’s training, these first responders also attend two to four hours of class for certification, Vandenack said.
Vandenack has been conducting the training for 18 years. He said not a lot has changed in that time as far as technique.
“The basics are pretty much the same,” he said.
Equipment has also stayed consistent over the years, the Yutan man said. There have been a few changes in the gloves and the wetsuits, but everything else remains the same.