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Breaking the ice - Country Journal - 02/21/2008


Reprinted with permission from the pages of the Country Journal

Photos by Lisa Connell

February 21, 2008

Breaking the ice - Firefighters stage ice water rescue

By Lisa Connell

HILLTOWNS – A number of Hilltown fire departments gathered at Ashfield Lake over the weekend to participate in ice water rescue training.  The gathering offered the opportunity for local departments to learn life saving skills, and for the Goshen Fire Department to try out their new Rapid Deployment Craft or RDC for the first time.

Goshen firefigher Bill Connell (in the yellow suit) practices how to rescue a man from the icy waters during a regional training exercise at Ashfield Lake.

Goshen Fire Chief Sue Labrie said the RDC, along with two new rescue suits and safety harnesses, was donated to the department by a generous seasonal resident of Goshen who lives on one of the lakes.  This resident wishes to remain anonymous, but the gift is a pretty spectacular one costing around $5,300.


She said the resident wanted to purchase equipment for the department and asked them what they needed.  They said they never had any real water rescue equipment before, and since they have plenty of water in town, it might be a good idea.  She said the RDC could be used not just for ice rescues but also in all kinds of water from still to swift.

The Goshen Fire Department's new rescue boat in action.


Goshen’s new boat fits in a suitcase-sized bag and takes about 40 seconds to inflate.  To use it, the rescuer sits on one end, and then fits the other end over the ice hole and victim.  The victim can just grab on, and rescuers on land pull them back to shore.


Instructor Veronica Mard said, “The purpose of the boat is another mans of rescue instead of us going in on our own to rescue.  It’s a way of putting the victim on something to protect them.  Remember something, this ice is very thick, very stable (that day), but normally when a victim goes through the ice it’s when it’s very unstable, very unsafe.”


Very often, once the victim is pulled out of the original hole, the victim and the rescuer can fall back through another weak spot.  Now different companies have developed different kinds of sleds and rescue equipment so the victim and rescuer can be safe.



Goshen Fire Chief Sue Labrie (in yellow) with Instructor Veronica Mard.


Mard, of the Northfield Dive and Rescue team, is a retired Amherst firefighter who, with her husband Phillip Gilmore, gives free instruction to departments all over Western Mass.  Their general philosophy is to train department members using equipment they have.


She said that a few years ago, a young lady drowned in Lincoln, while trying to save her dog.  So the girl’s parents paid for Dive Rescue International out of Colorado to come to Massachusetts and run an instructor’s course.  “My husband and I took the course,” she said.  Now they share their training with other departments.

Goshen Fire Chief Sue Labrie helps out Chesterfield's Bill Nugent.

During the training, Goshen’s new sled worked just wonderfully, and the suits got a workout as well.  Goshen Firefighter Bill Connell was the first from his department to go into the water wearing one of the new suits that cover the rescuer from head to toe.  “It wasn’t bad,” he said, and said he didn’t get wet.  On the other hand, helping to get a full-grown man, weighed down with sopping wet gear, out of the water was a lot of work.


Chief Labrie, who was the second to go into the water with the new gear, said, “Actually, I thought I would feel the temperature of the water, but I didn’t.  I didn’t feel any temperature change at all.”


Lt. Dustin Culver said he got a little water in one of his boots but overall was well protected.



Goshen Fire Chief Sue Labrie and Goshen firefighter Bill Connell showing off their new Mustang survival suits before entering the water at Ashfield Lake.


Chesterfield Firefighter Bill Nugent, who was the first rescuer of the day to go into the water using Chesterfield’s gear, which is similar, pointed out that the suits come with weighted boots, the suits inflate with air to keep them buoyant, and the suits have certain areas like elbows and knees covered in rough material that help the rescuers gain traction on the ice, particularly when they are crawling.  In the lining of his suit, there were pockets that held small ice picks that can be used to help the rescuer pull himself out of the ice water or crawl along the surface of the ice.



Chesterfield's Bill Nugent (in helmet) practices a rescue.


To perform an actual rescue, the firefighters choose a person to don the suit and go into the water.  This person is tethered to a line to the shore where his fellow firefighters can pull him out.  As he approaches the victim on the ice, he carries another rope line.  Once in the water, he ties this rope around the victim, and the rescuers on shore are able to pull the victim out of the water.  From there, both rescuer and victim crawl to shore.


Taking part during the training were the fire departments of Ashfield, Goshen, Chesterfield, Plainfield and Cummington along with the Northfield Dive Team.


The ice at Ashfield Lake was 30 inches thick, thick enough for ice fishing and snowmobilers.  The practice holes had to be cut using chainsaws.

(Thursday, February 21,2008)



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