Park rangers prep for the worst
February 12, 2016
When lakes or rivers freeze over there is opportunity for recreation but also potential for danger, and, while an incident is rare, it is not impossible. Say a person is visiting Jordanelle State Park, or any other with freezing winters and a body of water. This person is ice fishing, maybe, or just cutting across a part of the lake that looks safe. The ice is foggy in a way that should set off alarm bells, but the park visitor does not recognize it for what it is. Next thing he knows, the ice is cracking beneath his feet. A moment later, he is thrashing in the icy water, looking for purchase. He has less than an hour before he loses consciousness.
Jan. 22, a group of park rangers from Willard Bay State Park, Jordanelle State Park and Deer Creek State Park let at Jordanelle to prepare for just that scenario. The training session on ice rescues was conducted by Ty Hunter, boating program manager for Utah State Parks. He said it is essential that park rangers be prepared if an incident occurs.
"Often, our rangers will be the first on scene to an ice rescue incident," he said. "They need to know how to read the situation, prevent it from getting worse, request the needed rescue and medical assistance and implement a rescue."
The day began with a classroom session to discuss types of ice and rescue techniques before heading out on the ice to practice what they learned. Before the session, Hunter said he was hoping to locate a stretch of thin ice so the rangers could work with a natural break, but it was not to be. With 10-inch thick ice, Hunter said they had to cut a hole of their own. Still, he added, once they got going it was just as instructive.
"It allowed us to familiarize the participants with the suits and gear as well as see the importance of team communication and what gear they are deficient in," he said.
In addition to reading the ice to determine its type and level of likelihood to break, Hunter said the rangers worked on rescue tactics. He said the goal of any ice rescue is always to use as little as possible — the fewest number of people and the fewest resources. The simpler the operation is, the more likely it will succeed. For example, the first thing a rescuer should ascertain is whether the victim can self-rescue. If not, then the number of people needed to rescue the victim has to be determined, as well as what equipment will be needed.
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"[That could be] a ‘Reach,’ where the rescuer is extending an item to them to pull the victim to safety," he said. "A ‘Throw,’ where the rescuer is throwing a line to the victim; and last of all, performing a ‘Go’ rescue by going on the ice and extracting the victim from the water."
Time, of course, is of the essence, so rangers at the scene need to determine a course of action as quickly and efficiently as possible. Hunter referenced something called the "1-10-1 Rule," coined by Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht, professor of thermophysiology at the University of Manitoba. The idea is that someone fully immersed in icy water will need one minute to catch their breath and their bearings, then have 10 minutes of meaningful movement before they lose consciousness in one hour. And that leaves a small window of time for a rescue to take place.
The rangers practiced "Go" operations Friday, donning thick yellow suits to protect them from the cold. But perhaps the most important lesson to impart, Hunter said, is that rangers should know when to stand down and wait for emergency responders to arrive.
"[They need to know] the dangers of each rescue level and when to implement the hardest option, the ‘No Go,’" he said. "This option is one where conditions exist that are outside the ranger’s training abilities or physical abilities, or a lack of safety equipment. The most important thing is to effect a good rescue, but not at the expense of creating more victims."
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