First responders take advantage of freeze for ice rescue training

HELLAM TOWNSHIP, York County, Pa. --- "Perfect" may not be the best way to describe the weather over the last week.

That's exactly how Todd Stahl, president of WhiteCap Water Rescue Training, describes the conditions for ice rescue training.

With warmer temperatures expected in the days ahead, he said this is a window of opportunity to practice on the finite resource.

“We’re going to train, refine our skills, practice our techniques. These are low volume calls with high risk,” said Stahl.

Stahl, joined by two other first responders, donned specific 'First Watch' ice rescue suits and brought training gear such as an 'ice staff' and an 'ice and cold water rescue sling.'

Exercises during the day included rescuers saving themselves from the ice.

“You’ve got to be able to save yourself before you save someone else,” said Stahl.

Also, rescuing each other to simulate getting someone out of the water who fell through the ice.

Stahl said when rescue crews get those kinds of calls, he said they hope they only have to focus on one person.

The meaning behind that sentiment is they worry someone who is untrained or unprepared tries to solve the problem and falls through, themselves.

“The best thing to do is to stay on shore, keep good visual contact of the individual, keep in communication with them until rescue personnel arrive on scene," said Stahl.

Despite the freezing this week, Stahl said they don't want people to fall into an ice thickness trap.

He said he does not recommend anyone go out on the ice, at this time.

“Ice does not form at uniform thickness and it does not thaw out in uniform thickness. There’s no consistency with ice. There is no such thing as safe ice,” said Stahl.

Stahl said to be aware of open water or cracks in the ice that indicate there is a weak spot on the frozen body of water.

He also said that even if you're confident the ice is thick enough to walk on, always wear a helmet and a life jacket when going out on the ice.

If you fall through the ice, Stahl said they're first request is to try and stay calm and collect your thoughts.

He said the next step is to turn to the direction you came from and hang onto the ice shelf until rescuers arrive.

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