CCFD breaks the ice for rescue training

Published 10:13 am Monday, January 22, 2024

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During a week when the wind chill reached below zero several times, according to the National Weather Service, most individuals throughout Kentucky were doing their best to stay bundled indoors.

However, the Clark County Fire Department (CCFD) had other plans last Wednesday.

As a part of their special operations training, members of CCFD braved the cold and – at Harper Valley Farms near the Clark County and Bourbon county line along KY 627 – conducted Ice Rescue training to prepare for potentially hazardous scenarios.

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“We try to do [special operations training] monthly whether it’s vehicle extrication, structural collapse, large animal rescue, hazmat…we do all of the special operations disciplines,” said CCFD Captain Kelly Smith. “Next week, it’s going to be 60 [degrees]. The chances to get to do this [are] rare.”

Though on short notice, a well-sized group managed to attend.

Multiple layers of clothes and equipment were utilized to protect firefighters from the elements.

Among them were insulated neoprene gloves, a pealess whistle, a personal flotation device, a knife and leg straps.

Most notably, each participant wore a non-insulated dry suit, which offered an advantage.

“With these suits, it gives you [about] ten minutes until you start having severe hypothermia [and] 15 minutes before you start to lose consciousness,” Smith said. “It just extends that [average] time.”

As the exercise began, a pair of firefighters serving as instructors sat inside a small, inflatable rescue boat at approximately the midpoint of the pond – where a hole had been dug in the ice.

A firefighter would work their way toward the hole, submerging themselves as they prepared to be the one rescued.

While the boat was tethered by rope to a point off the pond, the submerged firefighter was tethered to a separate rope being held by other firefighters.

A throw bag attached to a 75-foot-long rope was thrown at the submerged firefighter.

A throw bag, typically used with swift water rescue attempts, can also be used in ice rescue when attempting to pull someone to safety.

Finally, another tethered firefighter would crawl out on his knees to an area approximately halfway between the shoreline of the pond and the hole in the ice featuring the submerged firefighter.

Once it had been determined that all was secure, multiple firefighters on land would pull in both and the anticipated victim in the event of an emergency.

Firefighter Shawn Puckett was the first to voluntarily submerge himself in the water – estimated at approximately 35 degrees – while firefighter Derrick Steele was the first to provide support by crawling on his knees halfway to the submerged area.

“The water gets in your gloves. That’s the worst part. It wasn’t too hard to get out, but it might be just because of the water [being] shallow,” Steele said. “I always try to be the first to step up and just try to do it. I feel like it’s [a] good initiative.”

For personal safety, the blood pressure and heart rate of firefighters was calculated before and after participation.

During their training, firefighters will do more than get in the water and have experience in the field.

Another part of the process toward gaining ice rescue certification, as is true with other special operations, involves classroom study.

Also, firefighters focus on overcoming potential psychological barriers.

“Guys have a tendency to bring their hands up out of the water to try to shake them off, [but] it’s warmer to be in the water”, Smith said. “Your brain doesn’t tell you that. Your brain tells you, ‘get up out of the water. The water’s cold.’ Those are the things that we try to overcome…to take what we see and take what we know…to make informed decisions.”

While Battalion Chief Will Jordan notes that he has yet to rescue individuals who have fallen through the ice, he noted that rescuing farm animals has happened as they wander onto the ice looking for water before encountering trouble.

To help offer a space for drinking without interference, firefighters spent time breaking the ice around different ponds after training.

While the learning experience is valuable and can even be adventurous, Jordan – who spent much time serving as an instructor – also offered a cautionary note.

“Here in Kentucky, we typically don’t get ice that is safe to walk on,” Jordan said. “As fun as it looks, it is not a safe practice and is not worth the risk.”

CCFD officials also wanted to publicly thank Harper Valley Farms for allowing them to use their property for training.