Don’t break the ice: Southington firefighters hone rescue skills

Members of the Southington Fire Department hone their skills at ice rescue during a practice drill at Recreation Park on Jan. 15.

At least one group of hardy Southingtonians welcomed the frigid temperatures as the sun set on a freezing mid-January day. No, it wasn’t a crowd of local skaters or a gathering of downhill skiers. As temperatures dipped below freezing, a group of fire rescue workers leapt into action at Recreation Park.

On Monday, Jan. 15, a group of 20 volunteer fire fighters from Southington Fire Department’s Co. 1 and Co. 3 took advantage of the frigid conditions to practice cold water and ice rescue techniques on the ice at the local park.

Firefighters went through a “dry run” on shore, going over the department procedures about cold water rescue. They discussed safety concerns for the drill and went over rescue and safety line techniques, before donning the cold-water rescue suit and heading out on the ice. The weather was perfect to practice techniques for the department’s “Rescue Alive Sled” to execute a proper rescue.

Once familiar with all the techniques, a firefighter dressed in one of the dry suits went out on the ice and cut a hole about 20 feet from shore. Then, he took a deep breath…and plunged into the the icy water.

That’s when the rescue team kicked into action. Another firefighter dressed in the same type of suit followed the “victim” onto the ice with the Rescue Alive Sled to execute the rescue. Within seconds, both rescuer and victim were heading back to shore.

“Practice makes perfect and proficiency is the key to success in situations like this,” SFD Lt. Andrew Rennie said in a press release.

Ice rescues aren’t commonplace in Southington, but executing a rescue carries high risk to everyone involved. The mock rescue allowed local officials to hone their craft before an emergency strikes, and each firefighter was able to practice technique and procedures.

“An ice rescue is what the fire services refer to as a ‘high-risk, low-frequency’ event,” Rennie said in the release. “Though volunteer firefighters don’t often face ice rescues, they nonetheless are required to practice the techniques annually to ensure that firefighters’ skills are up to par.”

By the end of the night, over a dozen evolutions were completed giving members the opportunity to be both victim and rescuer. Each participant operated the hand lines to pull the sled, victim and rescuer back to shore.

The SFD is always looking for new volunteers to join the department. To learn more, visit www.joinsfd.org.

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