Attempts to walk on lake ice in Juneau, such as the Mendenhall Lake, shown here on Jan. 27, 2021, is currently discouraged by Capital City Fire/Rescue in the strongest possible terms, said a CCFR officer in an interview. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Attempts to walk on lake ice in Juneau, such as the Mendenhall Lake, shown here on Jan. 27, 2021, is currently discouraged by Capital City Fire/Rescue in the strongest possible terms, said a CCFR officer in an interview. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Assistant fire chief : Stay off the ice

Despite recent cold spell, local lakes still unsafe.

Despite recent sub-freezing temperatures, venturing out on lake ice at this time would be foolhardy in the extreme and possibly fatal, said a Capital City Fire/Rescue officer.

“The temperature hasn’t been cold enough and consistent enough for ice. It hasn’t even reached below freezing enough,” said Assistant Chief Ed Quinto in a phone interview. “It has to stay cold throughout the day, not just during the nights. It hasn’t done that.”

Warm weather has rendered the ice unsafe, Quinto said. Other factors, such as glacier calving on the Mendenhall Lake, increase the risk.

“You may think it’s ice out there, but it might be open water,” Quinto said. “If there’s a calving, it’ll be even worse. That calving may cause waves and cause bigger fractures.”

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In the event that you are on the ice and break through, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game recommends kicking while pulling yourself onto thicker ice. But the odds of survival in the event of a breakthrough aren’t rosy, Quinto said.

“It takes seconds for you to get cold. You gasp for air, your body starts to shut down,” Quinto said. “It takes seconds to go into hypothermia. You might not even have time to yell for help.”

Snow in the forecast is unhelpful, Quinto said, increasing the risk of accidents.

“Stay on the dirt. Stay off the ice,” Quinto said. “With the forecast for snow, that’s gonna make it even worse. You won’t be able to see where’s safe.”

Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire
Attempts to walk on lake ice in Juneau, such as at Mendenhall Lake, shown here Wednesday, is currently discouraged by Capital City Fire/Rescue in the strongest possible terms, said a CCFR officer in an interview.

Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire Attempts to walk on lake ice in Juneau, such as at Mendenhall Lake, shown here Wednesday, is currently discouraged by Capital City Fire/Rescue in the strongest possible terms, said a CCFR officer in an interview.

The rescue options for CCFR, if they get a call, are limited. If the ice is thin enough, they may be able to get the boat out. But if it’s thick enough to prevent the boat but not thick enough to prevent someone from falling through, Quinto said, they have to go out in survival suits, called monkey suits.

“As the fire department, we’d have to be on the thin ice outside out there. It puts our lives in jeopardy, too. We have to decide if we run the boat out there. If it’s it’s thicker, you might be able to get out, but it’s not thick enough. It’s gonna cause a problem for us,” Quinto said. “We don’t have a hovercraft. If there’s a real thin ice situation, we may have to use a helicopter. And in the time it takes for the helicopter to spool up and go rescue you, you will not survive.”

A body lost under the ice is unlikely to ever be seen again, Quinto said.

“Once the clothes get wet and they lose the air, most bodies sink,” Quinto said. “You go under the water, the chances of us finding you are zero.”

What should you do if you see someone go in? Don’t become a casualty, Quinto said.

“Call 911. Do not attempt to try and go out there and save them. If they can fall through, anyone can fall through,” Quinto said. “Keep an eye on the person. Triangulate. Pick two spots across the shore and try to triangulate the person.”

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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