October 20, 2021

Cortland rescue personnel hit the ice

Bob Ellis/staff photographer

Cortland firefighters, left to right, Mitch Gosser, Derek Reynolds and Jim Zelsnack rescue the “victim,” Capt. Mike TenKate, from icy waters at the Yaman Park pond Friday morning while conducting ice water rescue training. They were using protective suits obtained through a grant.

Members of the city Fire Department’s Ice Rescue Team rushed onto the frozen surface of the pond at Yaman Park on Friday morning to pull a man from the freezing water. The scene was all part of a training exercise set up by the department.

Three men dressed from head to toe in yellow ice suits, slowly made their way onto the ice to pull Capt. Mike TenKate from the frigid waters. They carried with them rope, a red sling, and an ice rescue pole.

“There is a loop on the end of the pole and you take it and wrap it around the victim’s arm and twist the pole until tight, then you can pull the person out of the water,” said Capt. Carl Grantham explaining how the pole works.

While the three firefighters in the ice suits were assisting in TenKate’s rescue, three more members waited at the shore to assist by pulling on ropes.

On Friday, Grantham estimated the ice to be around 3 to 4 inches thick with water temperatures below it reaching close to freezing, 32 degrees, he said.

If someone fell through the ice in those conditions, they would only have a couple of minutes before hypothermia sets in, TenKate said. However, if a person remains calm and keeps their head above the water, their chance of rescue and survival is greater than if they go under, TenKate said.

If a person does fall through, there are a few things they can do to improve their chance of survival. Those include remaining calm, getting the attention of anyone around to receive help, remaining still and, very importantly, keeping their head above the water.

Grantham said one helpful tip for someone who has fallen through ice is to place your wet shirt sleeves on the surface of the ice so they freeze to the ice. “If a person goes unconscious, this will help keep them above the water.”

Besides knowing what to do after falling through the ice, officials also provided tips on what to do before even setting foot on the ice.

Those tips include letting people know where you plan on going, having another person with you, having self rescue picks or ice picks with you, and if the ice is unsafe, staying off it, TenKate said.

The ice rescue is a new addition to the department, added about two years ago, TenKate said. The department was able to purchase four ice suits, for about $1,000 a suit, after receiving a federal grant, TenKate said.

The ice rescue is now one component of many different types of emergencies the department has trained to respond to. Among those, are swift and flood rescue, rope rescue, hazardous materials response and confined spaces rescue, Grantham said.

Even though there were a hand-ful of members at the training Friday, TenKate said there are about 30 members, counting both volunteer and career staff, certified in ice rescue.