A response to “why” we train the way we do

We received a comment from our PSD ice diving video.

We have plenty of ways of dealing with ice dive scenarios, none of which involve setting up rope systems to get divers to the last seen point. Our usual ice dive drill involves cutting a hole in the ice, however that is training for the diver to get used to being in an overhead environment. We have worked on scenarios involving thin ice, and I’m not seeing how the sled thing or everyone belly down on the ice is better.

One thing we do use for the line tender is the First Alert Rescue Mat http://www.rescuemat.com/ this tool allows a line tender to be at the hole. Several Rescue Mats can be used as a bridge right to the last seen point.

Thank you for the comment as it allows us to provide more education.

  • We do not often try to bring the team all the way to the victim’s last seen point on unsupportive, thin ice. It is actually easier to do a search from a hole 20-30 feet away from the victim’s point of descent (VPOD). This is because a diver needs a tether line length of at least 1 ½ times the depth to begin to orient front back, left right from the tender. If the tender is positioned almost directly over head of the diver, as the tender would be when tending from the VPOD hole, the diver has compromised orientation, and hence a compromised pattern. Therefore, if the first tender out, crashes through the ice within 30 or so feet from the VPOD, then that becomes the dive hole. Why work to get to the VPOD hole when it provides no advantage.
  • The rescue mat is not a bad tool, but it is far from optimal. It is 25’ x 5’ and costs $3500.  If you have to get out more than 25’ you need a minimum of 2 mats. That is $7000. It is not rapid deployment for sure to move one mat in front of the other 3-4 times, while crawing a 100’ to get to the dive hole.  The next problem, is that it is the people on the ice that are making this effort, rather than shore personnel. The tenders and divers are still having to crawl on the mats out 100’, 200’ to get to the dive hole. And then they have to get home after the dive. Next, if you are relying on the mat,  that means the personnel on the ice are stuck on the mat.  What if the diver ends up under the ice roof under the mat? How does the tender rapidly get to the other side of the hole to re-establish direct line access.    The Marsars ice sled costs less than $1500, and you only need one no matter what the distance out. And very importantly, the shore personnel do all the work to move the sled back and forth- so the divers and tenders have no exertion getting from shore to the dive hole. Lastly, 100’s of teams plus the USCG have the MARSARS sled, so we are teaching them how to use what they already have for very effective surface ice rescue ops.
  • Why our tenders and backup divers remain belly down on the ice at all times – why there is no kneeling, sitting, walking, or standing.  First, lying on the ice allows you to spread your weight out across the largest surface area possible to help decrease the chance that the ice will break.  And if the ice does break, a laying position prevents potential injury to you as you are  falling through the punctured ice from a standing height.  Ask any training agency that allows PSD divers to stand on the ice: “have you ever once, hands-on trained divers how to safely fall through the ice without hurting yourself?” I doubt any can say yes.  Have they even tried this realistic situation hands-on to see what can happen to a diver wearing full gear who punctures the ice and falls through?

The key thing about why we keep our team laying down, is that if the child fell through the ice, then the dive team will NOT be able to stand at the edge by the victim’s hole. By the law of physics, if the child or even an adult fell through, what will happen to the ice when a diver wearing 100 lbs of gear and tenders, and backup divers, etc stand or even sit by that hole?

  • In regards to why we use the sled, the sled is a transport device that allows the divers and tenders to safely, rapidly, and effortlessly go from the shore to the diving hole. Additionally the sled maximizes the surface area to weight ratio, thereby greatly decreasing the chance of thin ice breaking. If the ice does break, however, that has no effect on the personnel riding on the sled. Whether the sled is on ice or on water, shore does all the work of pulling the sled with the pulley system back and forth between the diving hole and shore. The only person that has to move the sled out to the diving hole without shore assistance is the primary tender who rapidly deploys the pulley system at the diving hole. All other personnel simply ride the sled back and forth.  Without a sled, how does the team get to the hole without a great deal of exertion? And don’t think pushing any type of boat out does not involve exertion when the ice is thin. So that is not a rapid deployment answer.
  • Why tending from in the water is a critical skill: If the ice breaks, then the tenders will have to tend from in the water. This requires certain PPE and procedures. The classes that train tenders and divers to walk or sit on the ice do not teach them how to tend from in water positions. Hence, they will be completely unprepared to manage the situation of thin ice that wont support them. They cannot be safe or effective without this critical, real life training.

What I ask you to do if you will is imagine a real ice call. A young boy riding a bicycle has fallen through the ice. A would-be rescuer attempts to reach and save him. Tragically both drown and sink to the bottom.  The dive team responds. Sadly, the dive team has had an ice dive class that allowed them to walk on the ice to the diving hole. The tenders were allowed to stand at the hole’s edge while tending, and backup divers were allowed to sit on chairs or stand on wooden pallets. As the team members step on to the ice they crash through and now find themselves in water and broken ice chunks. They have no idea how to progress to the victim point of descent for either victim.  They are completely unprepared and realize that they have no training for the situation they are now in.

They were only trained to work on ice that was thick enough to support a diver wearing 100 lbs of gear.  And if the ice is that thick, they would not have been called to a scene because would the child, or the adult, have fallen through? Hence, they were only trained to dive as sport ice divers who only go out on supportive ice. They were never trained how to operate on the type of ice that dogs, children and adults fall through.

I say to all the dive instructors that teach recreational ice diving techniques as if they were PSD ice diving techniques:  Try using the procedures you are teaching when the ice will not support a 60 lb child. Try to get your primary and back up tenders, and your primary and backup and 90%-ready divers out to a dive hole when they crash though the ice every few feet. And when doing this, maintain direct contact with everyone who is on/in the ice. The whole team is tethered to the beach. Then, and only then, will you truly appreciate what we are saying.

We look forward to further comments so we can all keep on learning how to be safer and more effective on the ice.

If you would like to read more, see “Ice Diving Operations” by Hendrick & Zaferes, PennWell Publishing, Fire Engineering.

Author: Andrea Zaferes

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