Watertight investment

By Lee Filas
Daily Herald Staff Writer

February 28, 2003

Hypothermia can kill an average man in 22 minutes from the second he slips through a hole in the ice.
In the past, getting from the Fox Lake firehouse to the lake itself, crawling out onto the ice and pulling someone to safety was a slow-going affair
But now, through the use of a rescue airboat, snowmobile drivers or ice fishermen who slip into the water have a greater chance of surviving.
The Quad 2 Rescue Airboat, resting in wait at the Fox Lake fire station on Washington Street, has been credited with saving the life of 16 people so far this year.
The boat, purchased two years ago for under $20,000, is owned by the Northwest Lake County Fire Training Co-op, said rescue dive master Curt Martin.
"In the old days, it used to take about 15 minutes to actually get a guy onto the ice, tethered off, and crawling out to the victim," Martin said. "Now, we can actually get to the victim in six minutes."
The co-op is made up of six fire departments, including Fox Lake, Antioch, Grayslake, Lake Villa, Round Lake and Newport Township.
The co-op purchased the boat through donations earned during its annual golf tournament every summer.
Martin has spent countless hours riding on the airboat, prepared to dive into the frozen water to pull someone out.
"It pays itself off in one rescue," he said. "What price is too much to save lives?"
The boat is available for rescues anywhere in northern Illinois.
Martin said the old way of rescuing victims involved dive rescuers suiting up and waiting on shore, while a brave soul walked on the ice out to the victim dragging a small red "Jon Boat" stretcher.
The rescuer then crawled to the hole and slipped into the water, holding onto the victim, who is then pulled out via the rescue technicians on shore
Now, the flat-bottomed, steel boat - which can travel across ice, water and swamp with the help of a big fan-like motor - pulls up to within a pole's length of the victim and drags him out.
The large fan not only propels the boat across the water, but the sleek steel of the boat allows it to glide across water and ice.
"In extreme cases, we still send a diver in to make sure he doesn't slip under the surface," Martin added. "But, usually, they aren't near the hypothermia point when we get to them, and they can grab the pole."
The fastest time to getting to a victim in the past was just over 15 minutes. This year, rescuers using the airboat had a victim out of danger within a mere six minutes.
Fox Lake assistant chief Ted Beskow said the addition of the airboat in Fox Lake has saved lives over the past two years.
"Without a doubt it has been the greatest addition to the co-op," Beskow said. "When you can reach a person who has fallen through the ice in six minutes, you can easily call it a success."
And, he said, saving people from hypothermia is what saves lives.
"It's incredible," Beskow said. "And, it's been done for under $20,000. How great is that?"