GREENVILLE — The majority of local lakes, rivers and streams may be safely frozen over for the time being, but in a matter of weeks, the current frozen tundra that is Michigan will began to thaw, creating dangerous situations for those who continue to venture onto the ice.
That’s why members of the Greenville Department of Public Safety took time Thursday afternoon to partake in an ice rescue training session on Baldwin Lake, to remain proficient in their skills before the dangers of thawing ice occur.
After cutting a large hole through more than a foot of ice, firefighters and police officers worked together to help several part-paid firefighters experience the rush of the important exercise for the first time, as well as keep several veteran officers sharp with their rescue skills.
Marcus Roy, who has been working as a part-time firefighter with the department since last August and is still training through the fire academy, participated in the exercise for the first time. Donning a red emergency wet suit equipped with ropes and hooks, Roy made his way into the icy water as Sgt. Marty Obetts played the role of a victim in the water.
“Remain calm, I’m right behind you,” Roy told him as he entered the water.
As Obetts was submerged in the water and pretended to struggle, Roy worked to wrap his ropes around him, successfully hooking the two of them together.
When all was clear, he gave a signal to other officers and firefighters at the end of his rope by tapping his head.
Members of the department then worked together, pulling on the rope, lifting both Roy and Obetts out of the water.
“It’s a different feeling, those suits are very buoyant, so you’re like a bobber in the water,” Roy said. “I didn’t know what to expect, but it went pretty easy with so many experienced people here guiding me through it.”
Roy said Thursday’s exercise was an important step for him in competing his firefighter training.
“I’m eager to learn,” he said. “People are always getting themselves into situations where they need help. It’s always good to know how to handle those situations. I’ve got a lot more to learn, and you’re always learning, but this was a good step.”
Roy said he’s enjoyed the past several months of training, both through the fire academy and with the live exercise training with the department.
“It’s been an intense few months,” he said. “My adrenaline is always going, you never know what to expect.”
For part-time firefighter Ryan Klackle, keeping the skills and knowledge of what to do in an emergency situation is very important.
“It’s helpful, we have to train like it’s the real thing” he said. “Ice water rescue is going to be cold, and it’s not like we can do it in the summer.”
Though it may appear as if the firefighters and officers are jumping into waters that hover just above freezing temperatures, the suits actually keep them nearly completely dry.
“It wasn’t too bad getting in and out,” Klackle said. “It’s actually very dry. There’s a little gap at the neck, but other than that, you’re dry. I enjoy this kind of training, we’re blessed to be able to do it because we have this kind of equipment.”
Sgt. Brian Blomstrom said the ice rescue training takes place every two years so the knowledge stays fresh in the minds of the department’s officers and firefighters.
“This is a very important part of our training program, especially for our new individuals that are on the department,” he said. “We want to make sure they are prepared, not for just right now, but as the weather starts to break here in a few months where the possibility of these emergency situations rises greatly.”
Blomstrom stressed the importance of physically practicing the ice rescue techniques, as it is a much different process when compared to fighting a fire.
“It’s a different situation for them to be in, it’s much different than fighting an actual structure fire,” he said. “It’s a different dynamic. With the water being cold, and different training being involved, it’s something they have to get used to before it actually happens.”
Blomstrom also had officers and firefighters use one of the department’s ladder trucks to practice raising the ladder over the ice.
“If it were in the evening, we’d need light to perform a successful rescue,” he said. “With our ladder truck we could provide that light, or additional assistance, if need be.”
Thursday’s event was just an exercise, and hopefully come early spring, the department will be ready for action should they be needed in a real emergency situation.