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Fire and ice: Farmington firefighters complete ice rescue training

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The Farmington Fire Department practiced ice rescue on land before heading to the water. In this photo, firefighters are learning how to rescue a person with a Fortuna craft, which is open at both ends for easy access to the water. (RiverTown Multimedia photo by Deanna Weniger)2 / 2

The Farmington Fire Department spent 90 minutes in a class on ice rescue Monday night, Feb. 6, and then headed to a local pond on 195th St. and Deerbrooke Path to put that training into practice.

That night, about 7:30 p.m., the trainees put on cold water rescue suits and took turns being the victim and the rescuer in two eight-foot wide triangles of water, cut into the ice earlier that day.

Trainer Dan Bernardy, and owner of Rescuepax, an all terrain technical rescue business, taught the firefighters two methods of ice rescue — the noodle strap and the Fortuna craft.

Firefighters crawled out onto the ice with a noodle strap tied to a rope anchored by another firefighter on shore. Once the strap was around the victim, the firefighters pulled on the rope to free him from the water.

The Fortuna Rapid Deployment Craft is a 15-ft. long inflatable boat that is open at both points for easy access to water victims. Firefighters dragged the craft out onto the ice and practiced reaching down through the open sections and pulling the victim up onto the craft.

"We decided a month ago we would get Dan to come out," said Jim Schmitz, assistant chief of operations. "We have a fairly young department. Many have never been in suits in the water."

The department also used the training to test out the Fortuna craft and may possibly purchase one in the future at a potential cost of $4,500.

Bernardy also serves as a training officer for the Inver Grove Heights Fire Department. He has 20 years of experience rescuing people from the water, including one recently where he helped rescue a woman and her dog from an icy river, he said.

He likes the Fortuna craft, because it is light (only 50 pounds), versatile (it works in water, mud, swamp and ice), and can inflate in 45 seconds.

"Having an open bow and stern provides it the opportunity to be able to pull victims straight from the dangerous environment that they are in without placing the rescuer in that environment," he said.

Bernardy said the training went well.

"At the end of the night, the majority of them came to me and told me it was a very good set of skills for their toolbox," he said. "The issue with ice rescue is we have very seldom the need to put it into action, thankfully. It's so important. We don't get second chances."

Staying safe on the ice

Bernardy offered these pointers to folks who may find themselves on thin ice.

• If you see someone who has fallen through the ice, call 911 first.

• Do not go out onto the ice yourself.

• Look around for a reaching tool, such as jumper cables, a rope or a long branch.

• Sliding an empty cooler to the person will give them something to float on until help comes.

If you plan to be on ice, be prepared.

• Wear a personal floatation device.

• Carry a set of ice picks that can help give you traction to pull yourself out.

• Remember to kick your feet to help yourself get out.

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