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Firefighters from the Fort Drum Fire and Emergency Services Division demonstrate ice rescue skills Jan. 24 on Remington Pond. New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control instructors led the 16-hour course to teach first responders the National Fire Protection Association standards for ice and cold-water rescue. Volunteer firefighters from local departments also participated in the training. (Photo by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs)

Fort Drum firefighters train for ice rescues

Mike Strasser

Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs

FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Jan. 26, 2023) – Firefighters from the Fort Drum Fire and Emergency Services Division completed ice rescue training Jan. 23-26 with a combination of classroom activity at Fire Station 2 and scenario-based, hands-on drills at Remington Park.

Adam D’Amico, a fire protection specialist from the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control, said the 16-hour course teaches first responders the National Fire Protection Association standards for ice and cold-water rescue.

“All water rescues are performed using a sequence, whether it is a surface water, ice water or swift water rescue,” he said. “That sequence is ‘Preach, Reach, Throw, Row, Go and Helo,’ and that goes in order of complexity and danger to the rescuers.”

The “preach” phase is employed when first responders can use verbal commands to aid the victim in a self-rescue.

“We start with the preach stage to assess the situation by talking to the victim,” D’Amico said. “Are they responding normally? Are they injured?”

If a self-rescue is not possible, firefighters will employ a reaching tool or throw bag to pull the victim out of the water.

If the victim cannot be reached and rescued from a distance, firefighters will row out to the victim via floatation device or water rescue craft. If all else fails, only then will a first responder go into the water to rescue the victim.

“We were able to practice all of these using four different skills stations and scenarios that incorporated all the skills that they learned,” D’Amico said. “The only thing we didn’t do was the ‘helo,’ because we don’t own a helicopter. But they aren’t commonly used in ice rescues.”

Trainees are also instructed on personal safety and how to approach a victim.

“In studies of ice and cold-water immersion situations, by the time the fire department is called and they respond, the victim is usually exhausted and poses no threat,” D’Amico said. “The stereotypical movie scene where a drowning victim is panicked and fighting is not realistic.”

The instructors commended the trainees for the way they communicated with each other during the rescues and for not cutting any corners in performing the tasks to standard.

“The scenarios have been realistic, and they’ve thrown us some curve balls to get us thinking outside the box,” said Fort Drum Firefighter Chase Crump. “For us, this is building a lot of confidence in our skills and our equipment.”

Crump said that this was his first opportunity to certify as an ice rescue technician, but he had some familiarity with the specialized equipment at the fire station.

“I think this is much-needed training, considering the weather we have and the bodies of water around us that freeze over,” he said. “These are important skills for any firefighter to have.”

In addition to the 22 Fort Drum Fire and Emergency Division firefighters, there were six volunteer firefighters invited to the training from Rutland, Theresa, Chaumont, and Three Mile Bay volunteer fire departments.

“The Fort Drum Fire Department responds to many off-post mutual-aid calls,” said Fort Drum Fire Captain Jeffrey Hambsch, fire protection and training specialist. “So it is beneficial to have local volunteer firefighters with the same level of training, and it showcases the partnership between Fort Drum and the local community.”

Hambsch was one of the first responders involved in a cold-water rescue of a deer on the Black River during the winter of 2020 – the last time Fort Drum fire personnel were involved in such an incident.

“Ice rescue is a high-risk but low-frequency incident,” he said. “However, our fire department has the responsibility to perform this type of technical rescue, so we must always be ready to respond and take action.”