On Thin Ice: Firefighters Practice Rescues
By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
April 4, 2007
Members of the Durham Fire Department took advantage of the warm weather
melting the ice on the outdoor pool last week to test their rescue techniques.
The men donned ice rescue suits—an evolved version of the North
Atlantic exposure suits that are often worn by fishermen. With boots and
gloves, they can go into any body of water, regardless of the temperature.
“It’s great even in water that’s five degrees. You could
stay alive for hours,” said Captain Mike Hoffman. “We’ll
go into anything wearing these.”
Connected to a tether held by a fellow emergency worker, a fireman crawled
out on the ice, trying to distribute his weight so he wouldn’t sink.
But it was too soft and he kept falling through. That meant he had to swim
through the chucks to get to the dummy floating on the other side of the
“That’s not easy. Every time he moves, those pieces of ice
are jabbing at him,” Hoffman said.
More importantly, swimming instead of inching along the top of the ice
slows rescuers down, Hoffman said. They can make much better time if they
can navigate across the ice, particularly with the help of an ice pick
that’s attached to the sleeve of the rescue suit.
Other helpful aids include flippers, used in open water if there’s
no ice, a rubber sled the victim can crawl up on and be floated back to
shore, and a teardrop shaped floatation device the rescuer wears sung over
his head and one arm as he swims and can then be easily transferred to
the person in trouble.
The Durham department conducts the training at least once a year. Every
shift has a designated “runner,” as the water rescuers are
known, who is qualified to make a water rescue attempt if necessary.
“Everybody goes through the training,” Hoffman said. “We’ve
had episodes, on the bay, in the rivers. We want to be prepared.”