- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 18, 2017

GILLETTE, Wyo. (AP) - Members of the Campbell County Fire Department spent part of a January afternoon pulling themselves and others out of holes in the ice of Fishing Lake at Dalbey Memorial Park.

But this wasn’t a game, even with all the laughs and splashes. This was part of the department’s yearly ice rescue training, reported the Gillette News Record (https://bit.ly/2jW0CoG).

Capt. Kate Eischeid said the class is a popular one, “just because it’s so different,” adding that firefighters who have been certified have to get re-certified every year. That day’s training was for those who had never been certified in ice rescuing.

The day began with classroom training at Fire Station 1, followed by a practical examination at Fishing Lake, where two holes had been cut out of the ice.

The practical experience involved four different actions. First, they had to pull themselves out of the hole without using any tools. Second, they had to do the same thing, only this time they were allowed to use the picks they had in their sleeves.

Then they had to “rescue” someone from the water, once with a board and once without, with firefighters on the shore pulling them out by a rope.

For those worried about the firefighters jumping into freezing waters, they can rest assured that the firefighters were wearing dry suits, which kept them afloat and warm. These suits are the same ones that would be used in a real-life ice rescue.

“It’s not too cold in the drysuits until the water splashes your face or gets down your suit,” Eischeid said.

While Campbell County doesn’t have very many large bodies of water, Eischeid said it’s always good to be prepared, adding that rivers and lakes aren’t the only places where an ice rescue might be necessary.

“There are private properties, ranches that have reservoirs and things you don’t think about, all the mines, water pits, so it doesn’t take much water to have an emergency,” she said.

Firefighter Tom Linden enjoyed the training.

“It’s fun, actually, just learning something new, being able to have the skills, I guess, in case we need them,” he said.

“Overall, it was a really great experience,” said firefighter Dave Cummings.

Dealing with the buoyancy was the most difficult part of the whole process, Cummings said. The key, he said, was “when you get in the water with all the air that’s in your suit, learning to keep your toes and everything pointed down, and just use the buoyancy to work with you rather than against you,” he said.

Linden, who was one of the last ones to go, said he didn’t know if that would be a problem for him.

“I got a lot more room in this suit than some of the other guys do, which means more air,” he said before he went on the lake.

Although it might seem difficult in the cold temperatures, Eischeid said the warmer the ice and the softer the ice, the harder the rescue.

“We’ll do this again when the ice has melted a bit and it’s a lot slushier and a lot more difficult, not the solid ground we’re working on right here,” she said.


Information from: The Gillette (Wyo.) News Record, https://www.gillettenewsrecord.com

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