Ice safety is important every year
CASTLE ROCK - Our thoughts remain with the families and communities of the three Legend High School students involved in the tragedy last month at a retaining pond in Parker. Two students died and one other student was hospitalized after they fell through the ice.
This week we are providing some ice safety tips to help other students avoid this perennial danger.
“Ice safety is important not just following this tragedy. It is essential for all of us every year,” said Einar Jensen, the Risk Reduction Specialist at South Metro Fire Rescue Authority. “We live in an environment where ponds and lakes and even rivers ice up, we need to be vigilant and stay off the ice and encourage others to do the same.”
Even if there have been cold temperatures and a pond or lake looks solid, it can be extremely hard to tell, from the surface, whether the ice is sturdy.
“Ice, and especially snow-covered ice, is extremely deceptive. You cannot see cracks underneath, you can’t see the thickness of the ice underneath the snow,” Jensen explained. “You might see a dog walk over the ice and you might even see a person walk over the ice, but if that person weakened the ice and then you walked over it then you could be the one falling through.”
Jensen says South Metro and other metro area fire departments often field dozens of calls for ice rescues this time of year. He says the single most important thing to remember is to call 911 immediately.
“If we see someone fall through or an animal falls through, we need to keep ourselves under control and call 911 and let the professional, equipped rescuers take care of that individual,” Jensen said.
As you can imagine, falling into the icy cold water can be a shock, making it extremely difficult to think and move.
“When we fall through ice and our blood shunts to its core – to our brain and to our chest – we lose our dexterity. It is hard for us to use our fingers and our hands and arms. Trying to use your legs to kick and to pull yourself up with your elbows onto the ice is even difficult,” Jensen said.
This is why it is so crucial to call 911 first. The sooner an ice rescue victim can get help, the more likely they are to survive.
“We say that time is brain. When our hearts are not pumping oxygenated blood effectively to the brain, every minute that our brain goes without oxygen that is potentially a 10 percent less chance of survival. The numbers are different if our mammalian dive reflex kicks in – if our bodies slow down and react to that cold environment quickly,” Jensen explained. “When I was a kid, I remember seeing a story about a kid that fell through the ice in Minneapolis. He was under water for two or three hours and they resuscitated him and he had a full recovery. Sometimes that works, but most times it doesn’t.”
Jensen says it is extremely important that not only parents talk to kids about ice safety, but we bring other family members into the discussion.
“This is a risk that our communities face every year,” Jensen said. “It takes all of us working together to make sure that we live in as safe of a community as possible.”
If Someone Else Falls Through Ice
1. Call 911
Professional rescuers are trained and equipped to handle cold-water rescues and will arrive quickly. It is best to let them handle rescue efforts.
If person is close to shore or a dock, you can try to reach them with an arm, leg or something that provides greater length, like a branch or pole. Regardless, ensure you have a firm hold on the shore or dock.
If the person is further out, you may try to throw a rope, lifebuoy or even a lifejacket. Again, ensure that you remain firmly on the shore or dock.
If You Fall Through the Ice
1. Stay Calm
If, for whatever reason, you fall through the ice, you need to try to calm yourself, so you can remember what to do.
You need to kick your legs so that you’re pushing yourself to the part of the ice you were just on that didn’t break under your weight.
Place your arms straight out on the ice and try to pull yourself up. If you can’t get up, at least this will help you to keep your head above water, protecting your airway and helping rescuers to see you better.
If you are successful in getting up onto the ice by kicking and pulling, you want to roll all the way back to shore. That spreads your body weight over a greater area—and you will probably get to the shore safely.
A couple of weeks ago, students in Rock Canyon High School’s Fire Science program had the opportunity to learn how firefighters perform ice rescues. After extensive classroom training and under the watchful supervision of Littleton Fire and Rescue, students donned cold-water suits and practiced ice rescues.
“We take a lot of precaution,” explained Legend student Blake Vanconett. “We are always tied off. We always make sure that we have a means of egress-- a way to get out of the ice. We are always prepared. We always go in teams. We always make sure we have a team on land to pull each other out-- and we always have someone in the water-- to help whoever has gotten himself or herself in trouble.”