Along with freezing temperatures comes the lure of on-ice adventures but the associated safety risks mean Terrace’s search and rescue team has been preparing for emergencies.
During the first week of December the team simulated a rescue in the icy Skeena river, taking one minute to locate a submerged victim in the darkness of night.
“We decided to do an in-water practice under the bridge. We simulated a person falling/jumping into the river and had swiftwater swimmers rescue the subject and bring him safely to shore,” said Terrace SAR’s Dwayne Sheppard. “Night time operations are a common occurrence so we must be prepared to enter the water under extreme conditions such as darkness and ice.”
While the team made good time, Sheppard says he hopes no rescues will need to be made this year, providing public ice safety tips and debunking some myths to ensure some favourite Canadian winer passtimes make for good memories. Bus as accidents can happen, more tips on what to do in case of an emergency around frozen water are provided as well.
“Is is … important to remember that as rivers and ice freeze we must test the thickness,” said Sheppard.
According to Canadian Red Cross ice safety information, the recommended ice thickness for skating or walking is 15cm, for skating parties or games its 20cm and for snowmobiling its 25cm.
There are a number of factors that can affect how a body of water freezes like water body depth and its size. Others include water currents and tides, chemicals, large docks or rocks that absorb heat from the sun, changing air temperatures and shock waves from a vehicle traveling on ice.
A rule of thumb for ice safety is colour, according to the Canadian Red Cross, which notes clear blue ice as the strongest, opaque white ice as half the strength of the former — opaque white ice is snow that has melted some before freezing — and grey ice as unsafe. Grey means the presence of water.
And should one get into trouble by falling through thin ice, here are some things to do.
If alone, call for help. Don’t try to climb out in the same place where the ice is broken as it is weakest in that spot.
Instead, reach forward onto the broken ice without applying pressure, using trapped air in clothing to get into a floating position stomach down.
Kick legs to push the torso back up onto the ice, and crawl or roll to get away from the broken area. Distribute body weight evenly and don’t stand up until on shore.
If someone else has fallen through the ice, the safest way to perform a rescue is from shore as ice rescues are dangerous, according to the Canadian Red Cross.
Again, call for help from emergency personnel and bystanders.
If a long object like a branch or a pole is available and will reach, extend it from shore to the person who has fallen through the ice.
On ice, wear a floating device and use a pole or branch to test ice in front of you. Bring something to reach or throw to the person, like a pole or rope, for instance.
Make sure to lay down and distribute body weight when nearing the break, extend the device, and have the person kick while being pulled out.
Move the person to shore or where the ice is surely thick and call for help.
“We can survive much longer than people think but there are some necessary steps to ensure survival when entering cold water,” said Sheppard.
These steps are broken down by time.
First, during the initial plunge, try to prevent the head from going under water.
During the first minute, get control of breathing and avoid panic. The goal is not to breath in water and stay calm.
“You only have about ten minutes to use hands and arms for swimming, self rescue or to assist others rescuing you,” said a release from Sheppard. “The more active you are the less time you have. Make it count.”
With a floatation device, a person in freezing water has about one hour before going unconscious, without a floatation device drowning could occur within ten minutes as one won’t be able to swim to keep the head above water.
In some cases, people have survived by letting their wet sleeves freeze on ice which held them to the surface until rescue arrived.