LAMBTON SHORES – Members of the Lambton Shores Fire Department took an icy dip in the Ausable River at Port Franks recently to hone their water and ice rescuing skills.
Fire and Emergency Services Chief Lawrence Swift told the Times-Advance last week that 10 new members are now qualified for the department’s water and ice technical rescue team after training that took place in Port Franks over the weekend of Feb. 27-28.
Training took place in class as well as in the water, Swift said.
Swift said ice conditions were poor last year, so the department was unable to run a course to qualify new members then. For this year’s training, a third-party contractor supplied instructors as did the municipality.
In addition to the in-class training, the firefighters were able to get hands-on training in the water and on the ice using various pieces of equipment. They worked on basic skills and scenarios such as rescuing victims from the water.
“It’s a very intense course,” Swift said. “As well as very physically demanding.”
Despite working in icy water, the fire chief said participants still perspire heavily from the effort of breaking through the ice, swimming through chunks of ice and making the rescue.
“Even though they’re in freezing cold water, they’re perspiring,” Swift said. “It’s a really high effort task, but they all did great.”
All participants passed the course, so the department now has 10 newly-qualified ice and water rescuers. In total, Swift said the department probably has about 20 members qualified for the water and ice rescue team.
Swift said ice conditions were ideal at Port Franks over the last weekend in February. Helping to make those conditions ideal was the fact that, for shoreline protection, some of the Port Franks residents have installed a bubbler system along their docks, which keeps the dock area free from ice buildup. The bubbler provided some open water for the firefighters to practice in.
“It was a perfect place to train,” Swift said of the area around the Port Franks Marina.
He said the fire department gets called to incidents on the ice every year, including people who have either fallen through the ice or who have been trapped out on the ice.
“Ice is really never perfectly safe,” he said. “There is always a risk going out on ice.”
In the summer there are a number of incidents on the water, he added.
“The training, and having these qualifying teams, allows us to respond to them, both to make the rescue but also to ensure the safety of the firefighters attempting the rescue.”
Every year the technical rescue teams renew their skills, Swift said.
With warmer temperatures expected this week, Swift said ice will start to decay and he urged people to use common safety practices when around ice.
“It’s never 100 per cent safe,” the chief said.
The Lambton Shores Fire Department has a number of technical rescue teams consisting of members from the five stations. In addition to water and ice rescue, teams include rope rescue, elevator rescue and fire investigation.