Ice And Cold Water Rescue - Part III

In addition to rescue procedures and skills, a great deal of emphasis must be placed on self-rescue and survival procedures in cold water.

In addition to rescue procedures and skills, a great deal of emphasis must be placed on self-rescue and survival procedures in cold water. If a department is dispatched to a scene where someone has fallen through the ice, it is obvious that the condition of the ice has been compromised and the danger of others being exposed to the cold water conditions is always a threat.

Cold water will rob the body of heat 25 - 30 times faster than in air. Once a person is immersed in cold water, his arms and legs become numb and useless in a very short period of time. Therefore, unless properly protected in a cold water immersion or dry suit, the ability of a victim to assist in his/her own rescue is extremely limited and will rapidly degenerate.

The inherent design of any immersion suit, water/ice rescue suit, dry suit, or any PFD with extended hypothermia protection features, is to protect the high heat-loss areas of the body, which are the top of the head, the neck, the sides of the chest, and the groin area. [PHOTO 36]

If shore-based rescue attempts are made, rescue personnel must be aware that the victim may not be able to grab onto anything extended or thrown to him. Therefore, rescue personnel must consider the victim as a passive victim. If rescue throw bags or heaving lines are tossed to the victim, the victim most likely will not be able to grab onto the line in order to be pulled from the water. But rather, the victim must be instructed to twist or wrap himself with the line before the attempt is made to pull the victim to shore.

If shore-based rescuers attempt to extend something to the victim, that device will have to snag or loop over the victim since the victim will not be able to grab or hold onto the device.

Rescue personnel crawling out over the ice must realize the strength and integrity of the ice has already been compromised and always presents the chance of cracking or breaking under the weight of the rescuer and his equipment. Should the ice give way, as the rescuer falls into the cold water, he must make a conscious effort to protect his airway by covering his mouth and nose with one hand in order to prevent him from gasping and aspirating cold water into his mouth and nose.

Once the rescuer makes contact with the victim, shore-based rescuers manning tether lines must be extremely cautious when pulling the rescuer and victim back to shore so as to not cause additional injury to the victim or the rescuer due to the ice ledge or obstructions on the ice. Predetermined hand and/or whistle signals must be established so that the rescuer can effectively communicate with the shore-based personnel manning the tether lines. [PHOTO 37]

Rescue personnel must be cognizant of the conditions of the water in terms of depth, currents, clarity, etc. If, upon arrival on the scene, the victim can no longer be seen at the surface of the water, attempts must be made to search horizontally under the ice sheet using a pike pole, as well as to probe along the bottom.

Typically, if the victim was struggling next to the ice ledge, he will be found directly below the ledge, unless there are currents. If a child is missing through the ice in a moving water environment, rescuers can place one or several bags of potatoes or onions, with a flashlight or lightstick attached, into the water and watch the movement of the bag. Wherever the bag stops is a good indication of where the child might be located.


In order to prevent ice and cold-water related incidents, Public Safety and Rescue agencies should play an active role in public education. Ice skaters, snowmobilers, ice fishing enthusiasts, etc. should learn about the dangers of ice and should be aware of the contributing risk factors associated with on-ice activities.

These risk factors include alcohol consumption, poor ice conditions, excessive snowmobile speed, poor visibility or light conditions, etc. They should be aware of the characteristics of ice including information on ice formation and factors which affect ice strength.

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