LEWISPORTE, NL – A close call on New Year’s Eve involving five snowmobilers should serve as a reminder to anyone thinking about venturing on the ice to use extreme precautions.
Lewisporte Fire Rescue Chief Rob Fudge recounted the events on Dec. 31 when three snowmobiles went through the ice not far from shore on Island Pond. Another two snowmobilers made it to the safety of a nearby island, but they had sustained injuries and required assistance to be transported to safety.
The emergency call came in to the fire department around 3:30 p.m. that day. What followed was a response that unfolded over the next four hours.
Fudge said one thing they had in their favour in responding to the incident was that Fire Rescue was familiar with the pond and could quickly get there to initiate the rescue response. Due to ice on the road snow machines were used to transport Fire Rescue members, ambulance attendants and equipment to the scene. The three people who had gone in the water were able to get themselves on top of the ice and they eventually were brought to a cabin to warm up. Fudge said they were hypothermic and in shock, but once they were stable and dry they were transported back out to the main road.
Getting to the two men on the island involved the use of a new piece of equipment in the Lewisporte Fire Rescue cold water/ice rescue gear. A banana boat (which resembles a banana from its shape and colour) was acquired recently at a cost of over $6,000. That piece of equipment was purchased through funds from the Mussel Bed Soiree Committee and only put into service a week or two before Christmas.
“This is the first time it was used,” the Fire Chief said. “It’s a great piece of equipment.”
Two people can pick up the boat and walk with it. If it goes through the water those carrying the boat will end up in the boat, not in the water.
In this case the volunteer firefighters trained in this response technique walked several kilometres in total from the shore to the beach and back to bring the two men out one at a time. One man suffered back injuries while the other had injured his arm.
Fudge noted that in addition to Lewisporte Fire Rescue, the RCMP and Freake’s Ambulance also attended to the scene. A resident of the south side of Lewisporte, Shannon Fudge, volunteered to help transport equipment to the scene as well with his own snowmobile and sled.
As with all emergencies, Lewisporte Fire Rescue is professional in carrying out their duties, but there was an added urgency to this particular call.
“We knew everyone that was there, including one fireman,” Fudge said. “It made a difference when the call came in, when you know the people.”
The Fire Chief said there was a “very fortunate outcome” in this incident. He reminds people to check the ice before venturing out on a snowmobile and be prepared for the possibility of going through the ice. (See related sidebar on preparation and safety tips.)
Ensuring there is enough ice on a body of water that you plan to travel on by snowmobile is the first and most vital step in ensuring safe travels, but ice can be unpredictable and being proactive and knowing what to do if you fall through the ice is essential.
Lewisporte Fire Chief Rob Fudge provided some tips on how to prepare when you know your snowmobile excursion involves travelling on ice and what to do in the event that you go through the ice.
Fudge referred to a graphic that is included with the related article and can be viewed on the Lewisporte Fire Rescue page on Facebook about the minimum ice width measurements that should be followed before venturing on the ice.
Fudge noted during an interview with The Pilot on Jan. 22 that recent mild weather conditions have not been conducive to the formation of ice.
“Unless you know the conditions and your surroundings the only thing we can ask is to stay off it (the ice),” he recommends. “People are not paying heed to the ice conditions and are taking too many chances.”
When the ice does become safe for travel, if you plan to operate a snowmobile on it, Fudge recommends each snowmobiler carry ice picks in their pockets or areas on their snowsuit designed for this purpose. Lewisporte Fire Rescue plans to equip all of their ice/cold water rescue suits with these pieces of equipment that can be used to help grip the ice and pull yourself out of the water. Do not carry the ice picks on the inside of the snowsuit where you can’t reach them.
If you do go through the ice, Fudge said while it may be difficult, try not to panic. Aim to control your breathing and then work to kick and get yourself up on the ice and away from the hole. Once you get up roll away, don’t stand up. Seek help immediately.
Fudge says it is also a good idea to look at investing in a floater suit designed for snowmobilers who travel over water. He says they may cost a little more than a standard suit, but are well worth the investment.
“There is no dollar figure you can put on life,” he said.
It is also recommended to carry a throwing line on your snow machine. This can be used to offer assistance to someone who has gone through the ice. The Norris Arm Fire Department recently posted a training video on their Facebook page on the proper way to use a throw line and how the person in the ice should utilize it. Fudge recommends people view this video and take note of the J4 tangle technique.
For someone who has gone through the ice, Lewisporte Fire Rescue has trained in techniques of how to respond according to the situation. What is important is to warm the person up right away by wrapping them up in what is available, removing clothes if inside a shelter such as a cabin and keeping clothes on but still wrapping up if outside. Heat is important in either situation. Fudge advises snowmobilers to consider carrying an ax, matches and/or fire starter at all times. A tarp is also a good idea to help keep the wind out.
Another important thing to remember is to let people know where you are going and to be aware of your surroundings.