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Base fire department breaks the ice on rescue operations

Wright-Patterson Fire Department

A firefighter with the 788th Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Department at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, helps a “victim” as he is pulled from the icy water of Bass Lake on Feb. 10, 2021, during ice-rescue training. Ice on the base lake froze 4 inches deep, giving the department an opportunity to safely train for the challenges of saving people who have fallen through the surface. (U.S. Air Force photo by R.J. Oriez)

Wright-Patterson Fire Department

A firefighter with the 788th Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Department at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, places a line around a co-worker playing the role of “victim” during ice-rescue training Feb. 10, 2021. This month’s Arctic cold blast gave the fire department an opportunity to acclimate its first responders to the protective suit, equipment and conditions they would encounter in an ice emergency. (U.S. Air Force photo by R.J. Oriez)

Wright-Patterson Fire Department

Firefighters with the 788th Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Department at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, heave on a line to pull a “victim” out of icy water during rescue training Feb. 10, 2021. Responders must act quickly in an ice-rescue situation as freezing water quickly brings on hypothermia. A victim in street clothes may not be able to assist in their own rescue after only 10 minutes in the water. (U.S. Air Force photo by R.J. Oriez)

Wright-Patterson Fire Department

Brian Wilcher, a captain with the 788th Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Department at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, demonstrates how to connect lines and harnesses during ice-rescue training Feb. 10, 2021. February’s sustained cold weather gave the fire department an opportunity to acclimate its first responders to the protective suit, equipment and conditions they would encounter in an ice emergency. (U.S. Air Force photo by R.J. Oriez)

Wright-Patterson Fire Department

A “victim” is pulled from the icy water of Bass Lake on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, during ice-rescue training for the 788th Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Department, Feb. 10, 2021. Recent weather conditions gave the fire department a chance to train in conditions it would have to deal with in a real-world situation. (U.S. Air Force photo by R.J. Oriez)

Wright-Patterson Fire Department

A firefighter with the 788th Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Department at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, plays the role of a “victim” who had fallen through ice Feb. 10, 2021, on the base’s Bass Lake as part of an ice-rescue training exercise. Cold water quickly brings on hypothermia. A victim in street clothes may not be able to assist in their own rescue after only 10 minutes in the water. (U.S. Air Force photo by R.J. Oriez)

Wright-Patterson Fire Department

A firefighter with the 788th Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Department at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, holds a carabiner in an icy glove during ice-rescue training Feb. 10, 2021. The training allowed first responders to practice their skills in pulling victims who may have fallen through broken ice. (U.S. Air Force photo by R.J. Oriez)

Wright-Patterson Fire Department

A firefighter with the 788th Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Department at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, carefully makes his way across frozen Bass Lake on Feb. 10, 2021, toward a “victim” during ice-rescue training. The training gave the base’s firefighters an opportunity to practice their skills under real-world conditions. (U.S. Air Force photo by R.J. Oriez)

Wright-Patterson Fire Department

A “victim” is pulled from the icy water of Bass Lake during the 788th Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Department’s ice-rescue training on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, Feb. 10, 2021, while another one waits for first responders in the background. Recent weather conditions gave the fire department a chance to train in conditions it would have to deal with in a real-world situation. (U.S. Air Force photo by R.J. Oriez)

Wright-Patterson Fire Department
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A “victim” is pulled from a hole in the ice covering Bass Lake on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, during rescue training held by the 788th Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Department, Feb. 10, 2021. Recent frigid weather gave the fire department enough ice on the lake to let first responders practice techniques and get to know their equipment. (U.S. Air Force photo by R.J. Oriez)

Wright-Patterson Fire Department
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Brian Wilcher, a captain with the 788th Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Department at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, briefs firefighters prior to ice-rescue training at Bass Lake on Feb. 10, 2021. Wilcher said recent cold weather gave the base lake a 4-inch ice cover, making it perfect for safe training. (U.S. Air Force photo by R.J. Oriez)

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio - The problem with ice is it can break. If it does, and a person falls through, even a good swimmer could be in a lot of trouble.

It doesn’t take long for hypothermia to show up if submerged in freezing water. Symptoms can include confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss and drowsiness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Fire Department Capt. Brian Wilcher said a person who has been in the water for 10 minutes may not be able to assist in their own rescue. First responders need to know how to get the victim out without getting themselves in trouble.

That is where training comes in, because ice is different.

“(Our personnel) are all smart enough and highly trained in all our rope-rescue stuff. This is all basic stuff to them,” Wilcher said. “What is new and unique to them is actually having workable or usable ice that is safe enough for us to train on.”

Being able to feel the cold is important.

“This is to acclimate the rescuers, the people in the fire department, to cold-climate conditions,” he said. “We hate for them to learn what the suit feels like and the water feels like and the temperature feels like during an emergency.”

Wilcher and the fire department took advantage of this month’s cold weather to let base firefighters get their feet wet, so to speak. Every responder, except for those on leave, attended one of three training sessions held the second week of February.

One of them was Fire Department Capt. Steven McKee.

“I learned about the need to trust your equipment, the need to rely on others to get the job done, and that Ohio is still very cold,” he said.

This was not the first time McKee has taken part in this icy training, but he said refreshers are important.

“The more you use it, the easier it is,” he added.