US Coast Guard trains for ice rescues on frozen Lake Erie

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Despite the warming air temperatures, members from the U.S. Coast Guard station in Cleveland conducted ice rescue training in a chilly 33-degree Lake Erie.

The purpose of the training operation, which is performed several times a week, is to maintain proficiency on the ice and to demonstrate various rescue techniques.

"We go over our knowledge," said Post Mate 2nd Class Edward Fischer. "Currently, we get any new guys that we have come into the unit get qualified for rescuing on the ice."

The divers wear special equipment that floats when performing a rescue in the lake.

"We have what we call dry-suits. It keeps you warm and it's water tight," says Fischer.

The Coast Guard urges people to stay away from the lake because of the dangers posed by the cold water and ice.

Victims who may fall in go through three different stages, or the "1-10-1 rule."

"You have one minute to actually catch your breath, 10 minutes of functioning movement in such cold temperatures, and then one hour of consciousness," said Fischer.

The Coast Guard patrolmen use a rescue sling and a pulley-enabled Marsar shuttle board to pull any victims from the freezing water.

If going onto the lake or ice is absolutely necessary, Fischer provided several tips.

  • Wear bright clothing.
  • Establish the "float plan," or ensure that somebody else knows where you are and how long you'll be on the ice.
  • Try to get out of the ice as fast as you possibly can.

"We do the self-rescue technique, where you use your elbows, go to the end of the ice shelf, and you kind of crawl out and kick," said Fischer.

On Wednesday, a neighboring Coast Guard was involved with a search for a person who fell through the ice while riding a snowmobile on western Lake Erie.

Coast Guard members at Cleveland Harbor train two or three times a week.

On Thursday morning, several of them were out in the icy lake, training on multiple techniques they might use in case someone goes into the freezing water.

"If we do get that phone call, there's such a limited window to get someone out of the water and out of the ice, we need to be on our A game, top of our game," said Fischer.

The training is necessary, because ice rescues are different from other water rescues.

"There's also ice shelves that are actually under the surface of the water that you can't see, which is something, when we were doing our training, that we were actually coming across," said Brandon Zuvala. "We tried to swim to our victims, and we couldn't. There's actually ice shelves we're running into under the surface that you couldn't see."

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