Training for ice rescue

Nathan Domenighini
Morton Fire Department training officer Jeremy Meritt jumps on thin ice at the Fox Farm pond on Veterans Road Saturday morning as he and other volunteer firefighters train for ice water rescue.

Volunteer firefighters from the Morton Fire Department just returned from a call in which an SUV rolled over on an icy Tennessee Avenue Saturday morning. Though the accident resulted in no injuries, personnel always expect the worst in winter weather-related incidents.

It was not the type of ice rescue for which firefighters were about to practice.

A team of about 10 Morton firefighters gathered at Fox Farm off Veterans Road and geared up for their first-ever ice rescue training session after responding to the accident.

Bringing in expertise from the Peoria Fire Department, Morton firefighters were briefed on the process by Joe Troglio, a certified ice-rescue member from the Peoria department, before heading out to the pond located on the estate.

They cut a hole in the icy pond. The ice was about 8 inches deep. Then, they suited up with two of Morton Fire Department’s new ice water rescue suits, about $700 each, and in they jumped.

The scenario — an unprepared victim falls through ice in a pond. Time becomes a factor in water with a temperature near freezing. At a temperature of 32.5 degrees Fahrenheit, a person can begin to suffer exhaustion or face death within 15 minutes.

Recently, a real-life ice-rescue scenario was played out in December when Morton firefighters rescued a deer in the Cape Cod Apartments pond. They successfully saved the deer without prior training.

However, last weekend’s training was not for the sake of saving an animal. It was to prepare for the possibility that a human may experience the same scenario as that deer.

“We always have to practice as if it’s going to happen,” said Jeremy Meritt, training officer for the Morton Fire Department. “The biggest thing to realize is that ice is unpredictable.”

Meritt is certified in ice rescue. He, along with Troglio, offered comments and suggestions to those who participated.

Troglio, who observed and instructed those practicing, said ice rescue situations in Peoria are rare. Such an event is more likely in rural areas, such as Morton, he said.

The main concern, Troglio said, is that hunters and fishermen who embark on outdoor trips do so unprepared, thus making them likely victims.

Expectably, the colder the water, the greater the risk to an unprepared person. If water temperatures reach below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, the window of opportunity for rescue is only a few minutes, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

Falling into cold water causes a gasping reflex, which causes the victim to inhale water. Victims are likely to panic and become disoriented. Cold water can cool a body 25 times faster than cold air of the same temperature.

Several Morton firefighters said that Saturday’s training was pretty straightforward and rather simple. But, they were working with prepared victims.

“If it was an actual victim, getting them out is only half the battle,” said Meritt. “We are going to have to be gentle with them because they might be hypothermic.”

Saturday’s training lasted about three hours, but it was enough for the men to familiarize themselves with the process, said Morton fire chief Joe Kelley, who participated himself, but mostly watched from the sidelines.

Such training faces a reduction as a result of the village’s budget situation. Kelley said he wants to get volunteers accustomed to various types of training as soon as possible to gain as much rescue knowledge before training cuts are made.