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Ice Water Rescue Training

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From burning buildings to freezing bodies of water, firefighters face a bevy of conditions as they try to save victims. There is a lot of training that goes into those rescue operations.

“Something we hope we never have to use” said Assistant Fire Chief Jim Zenz on Saturday. More than 40 firefighters from Grass Lake, Napoleon Township, Summit Township and Liberty Township attended Ice Water Rescue training in Grass Lake on Sunday.

It takes real dedication to give up a Sunday to go jump in a hole in the ice and still tell you “It’s Fun. It’s actually really cool (and not in the cold sense) is what Jorge Zenz and several other firefighters told me on Sunday while standing in the near freezing temperatures at Grass Lake County Park. Hey, the Lions are done, so why not go jump in the icy water?

Chief Greg Jones said their were 19 firefighters, including the cadets, from Grass Lake that attended and were certified. “All of the guys have been through it at least once”. The training is put on by Michigan Rescue Concepts out of Harrison Township. Jones said they try to have the certification training every 2-3 years, however train on the lake and the ice every year to keep it fresh in everyone’s minds.

The training included several hours of classroom work before heading out to the Grass Lake County Park for live training. Firefighters Tom Zenz and Jorge Zenz cut 3 large rectangular holes in the ice about 100 yards off the shore, which was about 7 inches thick.

Each trainee had to be both a rescuer and a victim. The firefighters put on special suits, simply called ice water rescue suits. While the suits are designed to provide some protection from the cold, the most important factor is buoyancy. Once in the water, they trainees had to practice getting out of the water and back to shore by themselves, first without using ice picks, and then with. Later they practiced several types of rescues. Firefighters on the shore, or closer to shore provided rope support to help pull the victim and the rescuer out of the ice and back to shore.

Grass Lake Fire Department has 4 suits, life preservers and ropes designed for water rescues that stay in the rescue trucks. Chief Jones said they have only had to use them twice to the best of his recollection and is happy if it stays that way. The suits can be used for any water rescue, not just during winter season.

Chief Jones said people need to be careful on the lakes, especially with the recent warm weather. This week’s temperature change is likely to cause a loss of 3-4 inches within a matter of days. “Watch yourselves. Watch for ice fishing holes where the ice is thinner. Its good to be careful, cause water moves and takes some of the ice away.”

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