by Jim Boyle
Elk River firefighters went for a swim in the icy waters off the back end of the Lake Orono dam last weekend to perform ice rescue training.
It was the perfect day for it, according to Elk River Fire Chief John Cunningham, who had the training date on the calendar for months.
“It’s hard to plan,” he said. “There’s usually too much ice or not enough to make it realistic.”
Members of the department took turns rescuing one another over the course of three hours, Cunningham said.
The Elk River fire chief and other emergency personnel throughout the county are urging the public to use extreme caution and good judgment around ice this year. Warm weather has had its way with ice in recent days, making even foot traffic dicey in areas that one might not expect.
Last year a truck went through the ice in the dead of winter on Lake Orono, when a father-son duo parked near Highway 10 where the Elk River feeds the lake and creates soft spots.
Ice rescue trainings are dangerous operations, and the department tries to conduct annual training sessions (especially for new recruits) that include classroom work and training.
“You’re out in a dangerous environment where we know it’s not safe,” Cunningham said. “It’s important we train and be proficient on skills.”
And when the pager goes off and they arrive at the scene of an emergency, firefighters are asked to remember it’s not their emergency.
“We don’t want to become part of the problem,” Cunningham said. “We want to have right equipment, the right training and the right people on the scene.”