Capital City Fire and Rescue says relax. It could save your life.
It’s good advice if you fall into the frigid waters of Mendenhall Lake or Twin Lakes, CCFR firefighters and engineers demonstrated Saturday, or anywhere in one of Juneau’s many ponds and lakes.
CCFR’s Jayme Johns leads the team of 10 CCFR special teams employees and rescue volunteers who respond to ice emergencies in Juneau. The survival suit-clad firefighters each took turns Saturday jumping into a triangular hole cut into the ice at Mendenhall Lake in an educational workshop on ice safety.
“We really push the message to stay away from moving water, that’s a big thing,” he said. So don’t venture onto frozen rivers or near waterfalls like Nugget Falls. Stay away from borders of lakes and avoid what’s called suspended ice, which forms after water levels drop on a lake or pond.
If you do fall in, keeping calm can help your body get over its initial shock and conserve energy, he said, should you not be able to pull yourself out of the water. It’s the first step you should take should you ever find yourself going head over ice skates into the water at Mendenhall Lake.
The next step? Have somebody call 911. After that, a rescue becomes a matter of technique and resourcefulness.
For a self-rescue, the best idea is to kick your legs and pull with your hands to get as much of your body onto the ice as possible, he explained. This can be much easier if you carry with you a pair of ice awls, handheld wooden dowels connected by a string with a nail in the end. They can be made at home easily.
Once you’re safely out of the water, don’t stand up immediately. Roll to safety to avoid punching through the ice again.
If you see somebody fall through the ice, the first thing to remember is not to approach the area they fall in. Look for something that could be used to reach out to a person from the safety of a bank or thicker ice. A nearby extension cord, a fallen tree branch or, if they’re close enough, just a hand will work. Then attempt to pull them up.
There are ice ladders available at Rotary Park, Mendenhall Lake and Twin Lakes, so those are options as well.
It’s also important to remember, he explained, that neither the City and Borough of Juneau, CCFR nor the National Forest Service monitor ice thickness on Juneau’s lakes and ponds. This would lead to a false sense of security, Johns said, as measuring ice thickness is an inexact science. A lake could be a foot thick in one place — thick enough to support a car — and a half inch just a few feet away, so it’s impossible to deem a lake or pond completely safe.
“The only safe ice is at Treadwell Arena,” Johns said.
• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @KevinGullufsen.