MONMOUTH — Eighty-five percent of ice water rescues start with a victim who is trying to save a pet.

“If the ice isn’t solid enough to hold a pet, it won’t hold a person,” said Mark Anderson, a trainer for Tri-County Training Association, LLC, which provides training to firefighters.

Yet love, miscalculation and unawareness cause Mainers to fall through the ice every year — and the Monmouth Fire Department is now equipped and prepared for an ice-water rescue.

The department is even ready to respond to a pet rescue.

Two years ago, the department responded to a report of a woman who fell through the ice, according to Monmouth Fire Chief Dan Roy. She was trying to retrieve her pet when she broke through.

The woman was rescued with a throw bag, a bagged rope that can be tossed to the victim in order to pull the victim out.

In water temperature just above freezing, hypothermia can cause complete exhaustion, and it can take a life in just 30 to 45 minutes. The human body cools 25 to 30 times faster in cold water than in air.

The department recently received a Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation grant of $10,000, along with a private donation of $500, and the money was used to fund the training and equipment needed to perform ice-water rescues.

Members of the Fire Department donned ice rescue suits Saturday morning and jumped into the man-made pond — chilly at around 39 degrees — at the Monmouth Fish & Game Association. With air temperature in the teens, the men had to break open a hole originally cut Thursday.

Before jumping in, the firemen dressed in ice rescue suits — brightly colored, waterproof, insulated suits that are super-buoyant.

“You’ll feel cold after a while, maybe 10 minutes in the water,” said Monmouth Fire Capt. Anthony Siderio, who also works as a full-time firefighter for the Lewiston Fire Department.

The first thing to learn was how to self-rescue.

“The instinct people have is to pull themselves up at the ice shelf like they’re getting out,” Anderson said. That doesn’t distribute a person’s weight across the ice, but rather puts force in one place, which can break the ice further. Instead, Anderson suggested using the forearms to distribute weight, and from there, do an army crawl.

Next, they practiced saving each other.

“Every person that goes out (to rescue) must be tied off,” Siderio said. The rescuers entering the water are technicians; on land or ice deemed safe will be operations, a group of rescuers who pull the victim and technicians from the water.

In Saturday’s case, the rescuers were near enough to communicate by voice, but often that won’t be possible. Head tapping signals to operations that technicians are ready to be pulled or have the victim pulled from the water.

When they came out of the hole, the men rolled with their arms over their head, which not only distributed their weight across the ice, but kept them from becoming tangled with the rope.

During the Thursday classroom training, firemen were able to see a block of ice cut from the pond, which was 15 inches thick. The ice had layers, which were created when melting and refreezing occured. The layers indicated the strength of the ice. Thirteen to 15 inches of thickness could support the weight of a pickup truck; 6 inches, a snowmobile; and 4 inches could support a person.

Other factors could cause ice to be thin or unstable — warm springs; shallow water where rocks absorb the sun’s heat; inlets and outlets of a current; and pressure ridges that form when stress is put on the ice, like fault lines on the Earth.

Roy said people are more likely to fall through the ice in autumn and spring, when ice is in transition. He explained that in autumn, lakes do a turnover in which warm water comes up to the surface. Once the lake is the same temperature throughout, the top of lake will freeze.

The town has several major bodies of water with depth, including Lake Annabessacook, Cochnewagon Lake, Wilson Pond and Jug Stream.

“It’s been a long time coming for this,” said Siderio, who wrote the grant to the King Foundation.

New equipment purchased with the grant money included six ice rescue suits, throw ropes and bags, two 300-foot ropes, carabiners, crampons, a catch-all pole and screw augers.

The department has 56 firefighters, more than half of whom participated in the training, a representation that gave the chief confidence in the department’s ability to perform an ice-water rescue successfully.

Abigail Austin — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @AbigailAustinKJ


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