On thin ice
Perham Fire Department gets prepared for winter water emergencies.
PERHAM – The Perham Fire Department was on thin ice recently. The group was training for rescues on Little Pine Lake, should a person or animal fall through the ice and into the frigid waters of a lake or river.
“We trained by where the river comes in, and knew it would be thin (ice) there,” said firefighter Jake Huebsch. He added there were about two inches of ice on the lake the night they trained. “It’s good to train earlier in the season for this because after it gets really cold it can be hard to find thin ice.”
Training for ice rescues includes firefighters wearing insulated rescue suits that offer flotation assistance. The department has six ice rescue suits, with each costing about $1,000.
“We are fortunate to have a community and elected officials who are very supportive of the fire department,” Huebsch said. “They (help provide funding to) make sure we have necessary gear and equipment to respond to all sorts of calls, including ice rescues.”
In addition to getting comfortable in ice rescue suits, firefighters also practice rope skills. Huebsch explained that firefighters going out to help a victim have a rope attached to their suit. Should a firefighter fall through, or need extra assistance pulling a victim to safety, they have a team on the other end of the rope waiting on shore. They also focus on understanding how to reach a victim as safely as possible and utilizing tools they have for an ice rescue situation, the crew also reviewed how to light the area and relay information over the radio units to medical providers and other first responders.
After training concluded, the firefighters held a debriefing meeting where questions were asked, notes were taken on what worked well and concerns were addressed to circumvent similar issues from happening in a live situation.
“In a year there are a handful of times we do rescues,” he said, adding with the number of lakes in the area, it is good the team stays sharp.
After five years with the Perham Fire Department, Huebsch recalled two memorable ice rescues that he responded to. One involved a man who was ice fishing and brought along his dog.
“The gentleman was ice fishing when his dog ran off and ended up falling through (the ice),” Huebsch recalled. “He went to rescue his dog and fell through, too.”
While the fisherman was able to get out, he couldn’t rescue his dog. The Perham Fire Department showed up and Huebsch was one of the crew members to go onto the ice to help the dog, which was staying above water by swimming in a circle about 100 feet from the shoreline.
“I didn’t know how the dog would react,” Huebsch said. “He’d been in the water for 20 or 30 minutes by then. When I put an arm under the dog, his body went limp — in a good way, like he was saying thank you, and he put his head on my shoulder.”
The fisherman who fell through the ice had been transported to the hospital. Huebsch said after the pup was warmed up in a vehicle, the dog was brought to its owner for a warmhearted reunion.
The Perham Fire Department has 29 members. For those interested in joining the crew, stop by the Perham City Hall (125 Second Ave. NE). Huebsch said more information can be gathered there, and he encouraged those with an interest to pursue it.