Training on thin ice

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.

Photo by Jim Boyle. Steve Bourdeaux of the Elk River Fire Department crawled out to open waters duirng an ice rescue training session put on by the Elk River Fire Department on Dec. 10.

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.

Photo by Jim Boyle. Ryan Wolcenski (left) reached for ice as firefighters on the shore reeled him and Steve Bourdeaux in during rescue training operations.

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.”