St. Paul fire tests out new equipment for ice water rescue training

December 10, 2018 07:07 PM

This time of year, thin ice is a major concern for rescue crews across the state.

On Monday, St. Paul fire took to the icy waters of Como Lake to conduct training sessions in a partnership with Century College.  

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"These are the ice conditions we're going to encounter during an actual rescue," said Captain Edward Nelson, with the St. Paul Fire Department. 

RELATED: DNR warns about dangers of thin ice

In fact, their training paid off at the perfect time last week when there was an actual rescue on neighboring Lake McCarrons. 

"We got dispatched to a man in the water," said Thomas Hilpisch, with the St. Paul Fire Department. 

Zach Boemer, Thomas Hilpisch, and Doug Johnson from the St. Paul Fire Department were all on the call helping a cross-country skier to safety after falling through the ice.

"We saw the man clinging onto the ice," Hilpisch said. 

Coincidentally, they just wrapped up ice water rescue training minutes before the call.

"Couldn't have been any better timing as far as fresh in our heads," Hilpisch said. 

Captain Nelson leads his team through these sessions this time of year because he stresses the ice is weak. On average, the department says these calls come in two to three times a season. 

"We've had people go through the ice that have submerged under the ice so if we don't get to them in time those are the worst problems we're going to encounter," Nelson said. 

For many of these firefighters, this training is routine, but newly purchased technology like the ARM-LOC from Water Rescue Innovations is helping them do their jobs.

"It's called an ARM-LOC for a reason, it actually locks onto your arm instantaneous and you can't get it off," said Connie Sylvester, CEO of Water Rescue Innovations. 

St. Paul fire purchased more than a dozen of these ARM-LOCs and will start using them soon. Sylvester showed the firefighters how her product works on Monday morning. 

DNR: Important reminders regarding ice safety

"I'm going to crawl out to you, take your hand, slide it on your arm, pull the cord, and I got you," Sylvester said. 

"The ARM-LOC makes it a little easier to get ahold of the victim and to pull them out," Nelson said. 

"We always say it's another tool in the toolbox," Hilpisch said. 

While the ice is always unpredictable, the Minnesota DNR doesn't want you walking on it unless it's at least 4 inches thick. But in case of emergency, these crews have your back.

"Doesn't happen every day but obviously when it does happen you have to know what you're doing," Hilpisch said. 

In addition to testing the ice in various spots, the DNR also recommend having a floatation device and ice picks with you in case of an emergency. The picks can be used to stab the ice, then pull yourself out of the water. 

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Brett Hoffland

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