A fall through the ice into cold winter waters is a frightening and life-threatening emergency, and in an attempt to reduce those risks, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore recently offered "ice awareness" and ice rescue training for the park staff and other area agencies.
Staff at the park who travel across the ice are required to attend "ice awareness" training every year and perform an actual self-rescue from Lake Superior’s cold waters every five years. Members of the park’s search and rescue team are also trained to be ice rescue technicians.
Last month, two multi-agency training sessions were hosted at park headquarters in Bayfield, Wisconsin. Both programs – ice rescue and ice awareness training – were led by protection ranger Jason Johnson, who is a certified ice rescue trainer.
Park staff completed these sessions along with personnel from the U.S. Border Patrol, Red Cliff Tribal Fire Department, Red Cliff Tribal Police Department, Red Cliff Chippewa Game Wardens, US Department of Agriculture, University of Wisconsin at Madison, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
A park spokesperson notes, "The goals of these multi-agency training sessions are to improve overall ice awareness and develop ice rescue resources throughout the region. Most agencies and organizations do not require employees to attend ice training, but all involved were eager for the opportunity to participate, particularly as Johnson is one of the few Dive Rescue International certified trainers in the area."
"The combination of classroom and field experience provided all attendees with a general understanding of ice awareness and incident prevention and practical skills that will help guide response to any through-ice incidents. Training “in the field” is especially important in building ice experience, particularly since many participants at these training sessions had little or no time on the ice and/or with ice rescue."
This was literally more than "hands-on" training—it was a full body experience. In order to prepare for submersion in the frigid Lake Superior water, participants wore full immersion suits with neoprene gloves and hoods and traction devices such as stabilicers or yaktrax. Rescue gear included ice picks, throw bags, reach poles and rescue slings. Participants used the gear while learning self-rescue skills and, at the ice rescue training, technicians honed their “Teach, Reach and Go” skills.
The real-world training also reinforced the potential dangers of working on the ice.
The spokesperson noted, "Despite the protective gear, after a few hours on the ice and in the water most participants began to feel effects of the cold. Fingers and toes went numb as bodies began to pull heat away from the extremities to maintain core temperatures. The experience reminded everyone of the very real dangers of traveling on ice and of the most important message in ice training—prevent incidents from occurring, but be prepared ahead of time…just in case."
Kudos to the staff at Apostle Islands for practical and proactive efforts to improve safety for their employees and cooperating agencies.