Pulling someone out of a partially frozen over lake isn’t something the Spokane Valley Fire Department does often. In the interests of being prepared, however, firefighters were on Liberty Lake last week for their annual ice rescue training.
Firefighters donned yellow dry suits and took turns being the victim bobbing in the chilly lake waters and being the one to use a specially designed ice sled to rescue their co-workers. The sled rides on two pontoons that a rescuer walks between while holding onto two rails. If the ice should break beneathu the rescuer, he or she will be able to float on the sled.
After each firefighter slid into the hole cut into the ice, they waited for rescue. A firefighter would come out with the sled, then dip it into the open water so the “victim” could climb on. Once they were both on the sled, it was pulled ashore by firefighters towing it with a rope. All the firefighters also had ropes tied around their waists, the other end in the hands of fellow firefighters, in case something should go wrong.
The only mishap was a damp Lt. Gary Collins. The tight fitting neck of his suit caught on something as he was pulled out of the lake and water gushed into his suit through the gap. “I’m sure it’s operator error,” he said. “I had the collar a little low on my neck. I got real soaked this time. It was cold.”
Collins was able to make his way to shore quickly and change into dry clothes, leaving him with nothing more than a slightly bruised ego from his colleagues’ good natured ribbing.
The annual training is required for the approximately 50 firefighters assigned to Spokane Valley Fire Stations 3, 4, 7 and 10. They are the units designated for any ice rescues even though the department hasn’t had to rescue a person in quite some time. Last year the department received two calls that both turned out to be false alarms.
The department was called on to rescue a deer that had fallen through the ice last month. The only problem was the deer wasn’t going to climb on the sled to be hauled to shore, so assistant fire marshal Clifton Mehaffey cradled the deer in his lap as he was pulled across the ice to dry land. She submitted quietly to the ride, probably because she was extremely cold and tired and a little bloody from trying to climb out onto the ice, Mehaffey said. “She bawled once and she was done,” he said. “I don’t know how long she had been out there.”
Once on shore, however, she revived quickly. “She had enough energy then,” he said. “She saw daylight.”
The equipment firefighters were using last week is a far cry from what was used a decade ago. Back then they would snake an air filled hose out to the victim and firefighters only had bulky red rubber suits that limited movement and leaked. The new suits arrived six years ago. “They didn’t cost any more than the ones we had,” said battalion chief Warren “Coop” Kennett. “We needed new ones anyway.”
The training went down in Kennett’s book as a success as firefighters put warning tape around the hole in the ice and packed up their gear. “Everybody is walking away safe,” he said. “No one got hurt. We’re better prepared.”