The Cold Hard Facts About Ice

Members of the HVFCo. practice ice rescue on Dec. 16, 2013 at the Higganum Reservoir.
Members of the HVFCo. practice ice rescue on Dec. 16, 2013 at the Higganum Reservoir.

We get it. You’re sick of winter. The last thing you want to hear about is ice.

Unless you’re an ice fisherman, pond hockey player or ice skater.

Yet even these winter-hardy souls need to remember that even though it’s been cold and snowy, the insulating effect of snow slows down the freezing process. The extra weight also reduces how much weight the ice sheet can support.

And with meteorologists calling for temperatures to hit the 50s this week, expect a whole lot of melting of snow and ice.

The general rule of thumb is don't attempt to walk on ice that isn't clear and at least four inches thick. Unfortunately you can’t judge ice strength by its appearance, age, thickness, temperature, or whether or not the ice is covered with snow. Strength is based on all these factors – plus the depth of water under the ice, size of the water body, water chemistry and currents, and the distribution of the load on the ice.


If you witness someone fall through the ice, call 911. Stay at the point you last saw the person and guide rescuers as they arrive.

People will often try to extend a rope or branch, but if the person is far off shore, the safest option is to stay off the ice until help arrives, shouting encouragement from a distance. In North America, for every victim successfully rescued, two rescuers are lost. Too often these are Good Samaritans who end up becoming victims themselves. Trained personnel like members of the Haddam Volunteer Fire Company are statistically more likely to effect a successful rescue.

“Rescue workers will approach a victim quickly but carefully, assessing their level of consciousness and awareness,” said Haddam Firefighter and Ice Rescue Instructor Jay Selmer. “A coordinated team will perform the rescue from on and off shore. Together, we will get to the hole in the ice, go into the water, retrieve the victim and pull them to safety.”

The Fire Company is equipped with 10 Cold Water/Ice Rescue suits, all with ice picks and helmets. The suits are designed to compress around skin and hold in body temperature. In addition, there are Personal Flotation Devices, a Rescue Alive flotation sled specially designed for ice or open water rescue, and day-to-day rescue equipment carried on the trucks like ladders, backboards, ropes, webbing and pike poles.

First, try not to panic.
This may be easier said than done, but have these steps in mind so that you can be prepared.

Don't remove your winter clothing. Heavy clothes won’t drag you down. Instead they can trap air to provide warmth and flotation. This is especially true with a snowmobile suit.

Turn toward the direction you came. That’s probably the strongest ice.

Place your hands and arms on the unbroken surface. This is where a pair of nails, sharpened screwdrivers or ice picks come in handy. These tools may give you the extra traction you need to pull yourself up onto the ice.

Kick your feet and dig in your ice picks to work your way back onto the solid ice. If your clothes have trapped a lot of water, you may have to lift yourself partially out of the water on your elbows to let the water drain before starting forward.

Lie flat on the ice once you are out and roll away from the hole to keep your weight evenly distributed. This may help prevent you from breaking through again.

Get to a warm, dry, sheltered area and re-warm yourself immediately. In moderate to severe cases of cold water hypothermia, you must seek medical attention. Cold blood trapped in your extremities can come rushing back to your heart. The shock of the chilled blood may cause ventricular fibrillation leading to a heart attack and death.

Stay safe out there and remember, Spring is right around the corner!

Do You Have What It Takes? Find more information on the activities of the Haddam Volunteer Fire Co. and ways you can get involved at our website www.HaddamFire.com, or connect with us on Facebook


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