By CAROL ROBIDOUX
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY -- Nature is unpredictable, which is why it’s important never to let your guard down when you are outdoors.
But just in case you should ever find yourself the victim of a patch of thin ice that fails you, don’t worry: Derry’s guard — namely its dive team — is fully trained and ready for action.
This time of year can be tricky — many lakes still appear ice covered, but don’t be fooled. Conditions are poor in most places, as the thickness of the ice is inconsistent. Last week a crew of Derry firefighters took advantage of just how poor conditions are to don their thermal rescue gear and practice their arsenal of rescue skills in the icy drink.
Among those skills put to the test: How to crawl across unsafe ice; the best way to approach a victim who has already plunged through thin ice; and the fastest way to get someone out of the water and onto dry land.Derry Fire Lt. Rick Fisher, a certifi ed dive and ice rescue instructor, led the training exercises at Beaver Lake.
“Conditions were ideal for ice rescue training because the ice is so unsafe,” said Derry Fire Battalion Chief Jack Webb. “Firefighters were able to create the hole in the ice by kicking it with their feet, and the ice would break and fail underneath them as they approached the ‘victim.’” Webb said this time of year is of particular concern for rescuers as animals and children, often lured by the warm temperatures and appearance of solid ice, can easily wander out beyond the point of safety.
Despite the stellar snow conditions and arctic temperatures, there have been some reports of harrowing ice-related rescues around the state this season, including a Hooksett woman who fell through the ice while snowshoeing in mid-February, and a truck that broke through the ice on Big Island Pond four weeks ago in Derry. Derry’s annual Frost Fest had to cancel events planned for Beaver Lake. Too much snow, even in the depths of winter, can have an insulating effect and actually prevent ice from solidifying.
And in a tragic turn of events, a Sandown Firefighter suffered a heart attack and died in January following a training exercise quite similar to the one performed last week by Derry firefighters.
Webb stressed that the most important thing to remember in an ice emergency is that calling 911 for help is always the right response.
The hazards of ice rescue are such that most people would put the victim, or themselves, in more danger by trying to be a hero.
Once you’ve called 911, the next most important thing to do until help arrives is maintain visual and voice contact with someone who’s slipped through thin ice, Webb said.
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