Firefighters hone ice rescue skills on Lake Minnetonka

Between Jan. 9 and 11, 20 Minneapolis firefighters and their colleagues from the Hennepin County Water Patrol zipped themselves into waterproof suits and braved Lake Minnetonka’s frigid water to hone their ice rescue skills.

The ice rescue training was conducted over three days to allow firefighters from all three work shifts with water rescue duties to participate. (Designated Fire Stations have boats and specially-trained crews ready to respond to a water rescue need.) 

The five-hour training session began with an academic review of ice rescue basics, a refresher on cold weather emergency medical protocols and a review of partner agency work practices, operational responses and equipment. This was followed by an extensive live training session that required crews to practice ice rescues that involved incapacitated and combative/panicked victims.

Firefighters follow a rescue protocol that begins with efforts to help the victim to accomplish a self-rescue — getting in the water is the rescuer’s last option. Protocol calls for this order of rescue efforts: reach, throw, row and go. When rescuers must go to the victim, they do not walk on the ice — they crawl or slide on their stomachs. Each rescuer is attached by a lifeline. The rescuer connects a tether to the victim, and both are removed by a rope tender. Speed is important because freezing water can incapacitate a victim in minutes. Total time of rescue, depending on many variables, is about five minutes or less.

Rescue teams wear a special modular suit with a watertight hood, integrated gloves, and attached boots. The Mustang suits are insulated and warm, and allow rescuers to immerse themselves for long periods of time in icy cold water and maintain mental and physical capabilities. Tests have even shown the suits’ ability to retain their buoyancy when completely filled with water.


Published Jan 18, 2012