No Ice is Safe Ice – Ice Rescue Special Operations By Andrea Zaferes and Walt Hendrick

Winter brings the excitement of winter sports and the wonder of walking on water. Thousands of people world-wide will have adverse incidents on, or near the ice, many of which will go practically unnoticed. The ice cracks, and they find themselves immersed in frigid water. Miraculously they pull themselves out, perhaps with the aid of a friend, and the incident lasts only a few seconds. Embarrassed, they find their way home, warm themselves, dry their clothes, and say thanks.

Sadly, not all ice incidents end so simply. When public safety personnel are dispatched to an ice incident, the statement is already made, the ice is not safe. The victim(s) could not remove themselves, and would-be rescuers may find themselves engulfed by lack of support and frigid water. The fact is, the call would not have been dispatched if the ice was safe.

It is four thirty in the afternoon, the fading light is about to leave you with very little visibility, and the temperature is dropping. Suddenly there is an ice rescue call and you respond. All you need to do is operate on two basic principles:

First: There is only one job you have to do every time – Go Home. Second: No Ice is Safe Ice – any ice you respond to, and perform a rescue on, can break at anytime, at any place.

A doctorate’s degree worth of ice physics knowledge means next to nothing during an ice rescue. Safe, practiced procedures, proper equipment, and enough resources are what makes the difference between success and death. Assume the ice will break and be ready when it does.

 Be proactive; perform the Preparation Phase with care and knowledge. Do not be reactive to the incident’s demands. Plan the act and act the plan. If you started performing the procedures presented in Fall pre-planning for surface ice rescue in the last issue of Fire Engineering Magazine then you are well on your way to becoming proactive and meeting 2-2 to 2-5.1.2 of the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) Document 1670.

The NFPA Document 1670 1999 Edition is a noteworthy tool for being prepared to perform a safe and effective operation. Even if your department does not follow NFPA standards at least read through Document 1670 to glean from it what you can to improve safety standards.[1]

Let us examine the Document in greater detail to see what else must be done to be more fully compliant to help protect the department and department personnel from physical harm and legal liability.

2-1.3 states that “…technical rescue operations are performed in a safe manner consistent with the identified level of operational capability…” and 2-1.4 says, “Operational procedures shall not exceed the identified level of capability established in 2-1.1”

It is very important to identify and document what the team can and should not do. Consider two hypothetical Teams.

Team A documents that their surface ice capabilities are:

  • water moving less than 1 knot
  • trauma-related incidents (e.g. snow mobile accidents)
  • subsurface searches performed on the surface with a reach pole extending to a maximum depth of 15 feet.
  • no unstable vehicle incidents
  • no contaminated water incidents as defined by….

Team B’s ice capabilities are documented as:

  • swift water related incidents
  • vehicle related incidents
  • long distance operations extending 1 mile from shore
  • limited visibility operations
  • contaminated water operations as defined by …

Team B must have documented technician level training and equipment for ice operations involving swift water (7-3), vehicles (6-1), long distances, limited visibility (i.e. night, storms), and contaminated water (A-7.2.2(f)b). Most likely they are also a dive team with hazmat-tested drysuits and positive pressure full face masks.

 Imagine the following incident in Team A’s jurisdiction. At 0200 hrs, during a snowstorm a vehicle plummets off a bridge into a thin ice-covered river with 2.5 knots (250 feet/min) of moving water. Do the ice rescue technicians (IRT) of Team A belong going out to this vehicle 50 feet from shore in their neoprene ice rescue suits? Absolutely not!

We know this is a “no go” operation because of the environment and the documented[2] Hazard Analysis, Resource Assessment, and Risk Assessment – “Potential hazards and their likelihood of causing an incident shall be identified.”

The first step in this Approach Assessment and Risk/Benefit Analysis process is to compare the identified team capabilities with the hazards at hand. The team is not swift water capable. The risks of rescuer fatality due to immersion hypothermia and drowning are high. Neoprene ice rescue suits are not designed for moving water, as they are likely to flood and do not afford the necessary swimming capabilities. Team A IRT’s are trained to be tethered for surface ice operations, which may be more of a liability than a safety factor in this incident. Without being able to set up a moving water static line system, the risk of rescuers becoming entrapped in, against, or under the vehicle are too high. And what if the vehicle shifts or submerges? Section 2-1.8 states “The AHJ shall ensure that there is a standard operating procedure to evacuate members from an area an account for their safety when an Imminent Hazard condition is discovered.” Team A cannot ensure this even if the vehicle remains stable. They may not even be able to fully assess and analyze all the risks and hazards, let alone mitigate them. With documented, identified capabilities and Hazard Analysis the department and team members can clearly make the decision, and show why, this is a “no-go” situation.

The first step of Hazard Analysis and Risk Assessment 2-2.1 states “The AHJ shall conduct hazard analysis and risk assessment of the response area….Potential hazards and their likelihood of causing an incident shall be identified.”  “The AHJ shall conduct periodic surveys in the organization’s response are for the purpose of identifying the type of technical rescues that are most likely to occur.” (2-2.8) These procedures were described in greater detail in Fall pre-planning for surface ice rescue,” and see A-7-3.5(b) and A-7.3.7a.

Part of this process involves identifying “the type and availability of internal resources…” (2-2.3) Personnel are one of the most important part of internal resources. The NFPA has three training categories for personnel, awareness, operations, and technician (2-1.2).

Anyone who would respond to the scene of a possible ice rescue incident should be trained to the ice rescue Awareness-Level (2-1.6), which is usually a minimum of four hours of training. Awareness-level personnel “shall meet the requirements of competent person.” (7-2.1) The awareness level is the lowest level of training, yet it has an important mission of preventing further injuries and problems on the scene.

The first person on the scene with Awareness level training, who first assumes the Incident Commander (IC) position will have many tasks to accomplish in a short period of time. Delegation of officer positions and duties becomes critical.

The Awareness-Level involves the ability to perform and delegate the following duties (not necessarily in this order):

  1. Know where to go to assess the scene and stage the operation, based on pre-determined, documented, staging areas and the location of the incident.
  2. Identify and utilize PPE (e.g. personnel flotation devices [PFD’s], gloves, boots, hat, coat, anti-slip soles).
  3. Implement the assessment phase (7-2.2a) and Resource Assessment of existing and potential conditions and resources (7-2.2b), (A-8-2.3a).[3]
  • Identify hazards to life and health (7-2.2f).
  • Assess the number of victims, and if possible, the victims’ conditions – A.S.A.P.S (Aggressive, Self-Rescue Capable, Alert but unable to help, Passive, Submerging).*
  • determine rescue mode versus body recovery mode incident status (7-2.2g)
  1. Identify and document the resources necessary to conduct safe and effective operations (7-2.2c). Determine who needs to be dispatched to the scene, and what kind of response is necessary.
  2. Call for the appropriate personnel and response, including an ice-diving-rescue-certified dive team. If a vehicle is immersed, a hazmat team should be dispatched for.
  3. Implement the Incident Management System. Establish a command post, staging areas for incoming agencies, Safety Officer (2-5.2), Rescue Team Leader, and any other officers necessary to maintain a manageable span of control and a safe operation.
  4. Mark a spot on shore in front of each victim
  5. Secure and manage the scene to maintain scene safety and site control (7-2.2e).
  • Determine and mark hot (ice/water), warm (operational shore area) and cold zones
  • Keep bystanders, media and the victims’ families in the cold zone.
  • Secure and check the condition of witnesses and family.
  • Determine and direct the location and positioning of incoming vehicles to form windblocks, and to prevent blocking ambulance exit routes.
  1. Re-assess the victim(s) if possible. If submergence has occurred determine if the situation is a rescue or recovery based on time of submergence and the department’s standard operating guidelines (SOG).
  2. Commence communication with the victim if operational or technician rescuers have not yet arrived (megaphone or other voice aid)
  3. Interview witnesses and document the information on a profile map if operational or technician rescuers have not yet arrived (Slate or Pad, writing instrument, watch). (A-8-2.3h)
  4. implement the emergency response system for water incidents (7-2.2d)

* A.S.A.P.S. is a tool, developed by Lifeguard Systems, for determining how to best communicate with the victim, the level of urgency, the number of ice rescue technicians to deploy, what rescue tools are most appropriate, which victim to approach first in a multiple victim incident, and what equipment EMS personnel should have immediately ready.

Since ice rescues are probably not a regular occurrence, it is recommended to make an awareness level ice rescue incident checklist for ice Awareness certified members to keep in their vehicles, PFD’s or wallet during the ice season. Such a check-list can be put on laminated ID size cards.[4]

If awareness or operational Level is the entirety of your training, Do NOT go out on the Ice!  If the victim fell through, so very likely will you, and you may have less chance of survival than the victim. Two victims are never better than one.

Operational-Level – Shore based rescue

This level involves all awareness level skills (7-3.1) plus additional knowledge and skills specific to ice rescue, and the ability to perform shore-based rescue procedures (7-3.5f) without entering the hazardous atmosphere of water/ice. Operational certification usually requires two days of training followed by several annual practice sessions.

  1. Don appropriate PPE (PFD, Thermal protection, gloves, boots, hat, cutting tool, whistle, contamination protection if needed). (7-3.4)
  2. Ensure all of the duties listed under the Awareness Level are being properly completed. And, “…evaluate the progress of the planned response to ensure the objective are being met safely, effectively and effectively.” (7-3.5e)
  3. insure personal safety (7-3.5a)
  4. “Asses water conditions in terms of hazards to the victim and rescuer” (7-3.5b)
  5. “…separate, isolate, secure, and interview witnesses” (7-3.5c) Check witness health status.
  6. “…determine the method of victim entrapment.” (7-3.5d) Is the victim in an ice hole, laying on the ice, caught by fishing line, or trapped in an ice shack?
  7. Document and Implement the shore-based Incident Response Plan and Incident Command System (7-3.5f):
  • help the victim perform self-rescue procedures,
  • reach,
  • throw (e.g. throw bags 7-3.5g)
  • “rapid extrication of accessible victim” (7-3.5p)
  • Communicate with the victim(s)
  1. Assist Technician Level rescuers with shore operations and tending.
  • “supply assistance with rigging and mechanical advantage systems to technician-level personnel” (7-3.5h)
  1. “Procedures to deploy operate, and recover any watercraft used by the organization.” (7-3.5I) Please note that this does not refer to ice rescue transport devices such as sleds and boards that involve rescuer contact with the ice and immersion. Ice rescue transport devices require technician-level training.
  2. Surface water-based search operations (7-3.5q). Note that this does not mean going on the ice. It may mean walking along the shore, or working off a boat in areas of open water.
  3. “…survival swimming and self-rescue” (7-3.5j) and appropriate
  4. Identify and manage rescuer heat and cold stress (7-3.5k) (A-7-4.8a)
  5. Safe and effective use of victim packaging devices employed by the organization. (7-3.5l) (A-7-3.7e)
  6. “Transfer victim information including location, surroundings, condition when found, present condition and other information pertinent to emergency medical services.” (7.3.5m)
  • Further assess victim A.S.A.P.S. status.

Technician Level – direct exposure to the Water Hazard Zone: Ice and water: “Go”

The moment it becomes necessary to set foot on the ice, the operation requires Technician Level rescue. The moment a rescuer steps on the ice the entire operation changes, because the rescuer is now directly exposed to the hazardous atmosphere – water. Ice rescue thermal protective suits, lines, harnesses, trained tenders, back-up personnel, and more, are now all required. The operation is at an entirely different Level. Technicians must meet all awareness and operations standards (7-4.1) with more extensive knowledge, watermanship skills, and rescue skills, training, and additional equipment.

Duties of IRT’s include:

  1. Perform risk-benefit analysis – “Go” or “No Go”
  2. Plan “a response within the capabilities of available resources,” (7-4.6a) and implement “a planned response consistent with the organization’s capabilities.” (7-4.6b)
  3. Perform self-rescue procedures. The technician must be able to swim and handle the exertion, and should have an annual physical examination to check for hypertension, asthma and other contraindications to performing technician level ice rescue. Technicians must possess a level of watermanship skill and comfort appropriate to the required task (7-4.5). The level of water skills should be determined by the potential type of incidents documented during pre-planning procedures. If incidents could occur 2 miles from shore then rescuers need not only water skills but very strong physical fitness skills.
  4. Implement the planned response. The most important aspect of technician level ice rescue is to immediately and safely establish victim-positive buoyancy upon contact. The same remains true for operational level efforts, but it may not always be possible if the victim is far from shore. The victim may first need to be reached and brought closer to shore for rescuers to establish that critical positive buoyancy. And therefore, technicians must be capable of conducting “go” rescues (7-4.6d), (A-7-4.6d) if reach and throw methods are not sufficient or possible.
  5. Technicians must be able to use the ice rescue transport device and other ice equipment available. (7-4.8)
  6. Coordinate with, and advise, Incident Command, the responding dive team, and other responding external resources.
  7. Perform the Termination phase of the operation.

The NFPA Document 1670 1999 Edition offers useful information for any department that would respond to a surface ice or other water-related incident. If you have not already started pre-planning procedures, the time to start is now. And never forget the most important rule of every mission: There is only one job you have to do every time – Go Home .

 This information touches the tip of the iceberg. For more information on surface ice rescue and immersion hypothermia/drowning patient handling see Surface Ice Rescue by Walt Hendrick and Andrea Zaferes, PennWell Publishing (1999) 214 pages. It is available from Fire Engineering at 1-800-752-9768, Order No. 0-912-212-853. Also ask about the Surface Ice Rescue Audiovisual.

NFPA Document 1670 Terms useful to surface ice operations.

  • Approach Assessment – The period of time from the moment when the incident site first becomes visible to the moment when the initial size-up is completed
  • Assessment Phase (Size-up) – The process of assessing the conditions, the scene, and the subject’s condition and ability to assist in his or her own rescue.
  • Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) – The organization, office, or individual responsible for approving equipment, an installation, or a procedure.
  • Avalanche – A mass of snow – sometimes containing ice, water, and debris – that slides down a mountainside.
  • Awareness – This level represents the minimum capability of a responder who, in the course of his or her regular job duties, could be called up on to respond to, or could be the first on the scene of, a technical rescue incident. This level can involve search, rescue, and recovery operations. Members of a team at this level are generally not considered rescuers.
  • Competent Person – One who is capable of identifying existing and predictable conditions in the surroundings or in the working area that are unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to employees, and who as authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate such conditions.
  • Environment – A collection of characteristics such as weather, altitude, and terrain contained in an area that are unique to a location.
  • Fixed Line (Fixed Line System) – A rope rescue system consisting of a nonmoving rope attached to an anchor system.
  • Hazards Analysis – The process of identifying situations or conditions that have the potential to cause injury to people, damage to property, or damage to the environment.
  • Hazardous Atmosphere – Any atmosphere that is oxygen deficient, contains a toxic or disease-producing contaminant, or is potential explosive. A hazardous atmosphere could be immediately dangerous to life and health, but not necessarily.
  • Imminent Hazard – An act or condition that is judged to present a danger to persons or property and is so immediate and severe that it requires immediate corrective or preventive action.
  • Incident Command System (ICS) – The combination of facilities, equipment, personnel, procedures, and communications operating within a common organizational structure with responsibility for the management of assigned resources to effectively accomplish stated objectives pertaining to an incident or training exercise.
  • Incident Commander – The person responsible for all decisions relating to the management of the incident. The incident commander is in charge of the incident site.
  • Incident Management System – The management system or command structure used during emergency operations to identify clearly who is in command of the incident and what roles and responsibilities are assigned to various members.
  • Incident Response Plan – Written procedures, including standard operating guidelines, for managing an emergency response and operation.
  • Mechanical Advantage – A force created through mechanical means including, but not limited to, a system of levers, gearing, or ropes and pulleys usually creating an output force greater than the input force and expressed in terms of a ration of output force to input force.
  • Mitigation – Activities taken, either prior to or following an incident, to eliminate or reduce the degree of risk to life and property from hazards.
  • Operations – This level represents the capability of hazard recognition, equipment use, and techniques necessary to safely and effectively support and participate in a technical rescue incident. This level can involved search, rescue, and recovery operations, but usually operations are carried out under the supervision of technician-level personnel.
  • Preparation Phase – All actions and planning conducted prior to the initial receipt of alarm.
  • Reach, Throw, Row, Go – The four sequential steps in water rescue with progressively more risk to the rescuer. Specifically, a “go” rescue involves physically entering the medium (e.g., in the water or on the ice).
  • Recovery Mode – Level of operational urgency where there is no chance of rescuing a victim alive.
  • Rescue – Those activities directed at locating endangered persons at an emergency incident, removing those persons from danger, treating the injured, and providing for transport to an appropriate health care facility. \
  • Rescue Mode – A level of operational urgency where there is a chance that a victim will be rescued alive.
  • Rescue Team Leader – The person designated within the incident command system as rescue group/division officer responsible for direct supervision of the rescue team operations.
  • Resource Assessment – The component of the assessment phase that involves the determination for the need for additional resources. … can be ongoing throughout entire incident.
  • Resources – All personnel and equipment that are available, or potentially available, for assignment to incidents.
  • Risk – A measure of the probability and severity of adverse effects that result from an exposure to a hazard.
  • Risk Assessment – An assessment of the likelihood, vulnerability, and magnitude of incidents that could result from exposure to hazards.
  • Risk/Benefit Analysis – A decision made by a responder based on a hazards and situation assessment that weights the risks likely to be taken against the benefits to be gained for taking those risks.
  • Safety Officer – An individual qualified by the authority having jurisdiction to maintain a safe working environment.
  • Size-up – A mental process of evaluating the influencing factors at an incident prior to committing resources to a course of action.
  • Special Operations – Those emergency incidents to which the responding agency responds that require specific and advanced technical training and specialized tools and equipment.
  • Swift Water – Water moving at a rate greater than on knot (100 feet per minute, 1.15 mph)
  • Technical Rescue – The application of special knowledge, skills, and equipment to safely resolve unique and/pr complex rescue situations.
  • Technician – This level represents the capability of hazard recognition, equipment use, and techniques necessary to safely and effectively coordinate, perform, and supervise a technical rescue incident. This level can involve search, rescue, and recovery operations.
  • Termination – That portion of the incident management in which personnel are involved in documenting safety procedures, site operations, hazards faced, and lessons learned from the incident. Termination is divided into three phases: debriefing the incident, post-incident analysis and critiquing the incident.
  • Water Hazard Zone – In water rescue, the zone includes the area covered by water or ice.
  • Watermanship skills – Capabilities that include swimming, surface diving, treading water, and staying afloat with a reasonable degree of comfort appropriate to the required task.

Lifeguard Systems & RIPTIDE www.teamlgs.com  www.rip-tide.org Join our on-line discussion group at www.wateroperations.com Go to www.teamlgs.com  and click on PSD Archives for previous postings 845-657-5544, 845-657-5549 Fax,  POB 594 Shokan NY 12481

[1] See the www.nfpa.org  website for additional information.

[2] section 2-2.6 “The hazard analysis and risk assessment shall be documented.”

[3] A-7-3.7b states that rescuers should be able to recognize five types of ice. We find this information irrelevant for many reasons, such as ice can change from minute to minute and foot to foot. Use procedures that work for all ice conditions and be prepared to fall through. For additional reasons see Surface Ice Rescue.

[4] Available from www.teamlgs.com.

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