During joint training exercises, Holmen Area Fire Department firefighter Angela Davies (left) and Brice Prairie EMS & Rescue responder Scott Davis man an inflatable Rapid Deployment Craft to assist HAFD firefighter Austen Heidlage (right) out of hole in the ice in the Black River backwaters.

Pat McKnight

Emergency responders with the Brice Prairie EMS and Rescue and firefighters with the Holmen Area Fire Department recently went for dips in the Black River.

The plunges into the icy water weren’t to raise money but to train for potential ice rescues.

Protected from the frigid water temps by ice rescue suits, 15 emergency response personnel practiced being victims as well as rescuers during the March 3 day-long training.

BPER Service Director Chris O’Hearn and BRER members Stephanie Johnson and Allen Sheston, have completed train-the-trainer certification course and served as instructors. The curriculum is from Atlas Outfitters of White Bear Lake Rescue Training Center of Dunbar.

The training involved morning classroom instruction as well as afternoon hands-on practical. Already certified responders repeated the course and assisted those taking the training for the first time to be certified in ice rescue protocol.

The live practice was held at Lytle’s Landing at the west end of Brice Prairie. A hole was cut into the ice in the backwater area from which “victims” were pulled from the water. A rescue exercise was also held in the open and flowing waters of the Black River channel.

Clad in their protective suits, the trainees learned four procedures—how to get themselves out of the water without help, how to get out of the water with assistance, how to rescue a conscious victim and how to rescue an unconscious victim.

The responders learned to use the inflatable Rapid Deployment Craft to remove a victim from the water. The banana colored and shaped boat has openings at each end through which the victim is pulled to safety using a loop of rope covered in rubber tubing.

“It (the RDC) can be inflated in about a minute with the air tanks,” said O’Hearn. “It then deflates for storage.”

Using his or her body’s weight and leverage, even the slightest of responders can pull the victim partially out of the water, enough so the RDC can be pulled away from the opening with the victim secure to the craft.

O’Hearn advises those venturing out on the ice shouldn’t rely on others for accurate information about the safety of the ice. Illustrating with a foot-long chunk of ice removed from the hole, O’Hearn pointed out that while the ice might be thick it could be compromised by the many fractures caused by freezing and thawing conditions.

“Those going out on the ice should have ice picks and use a spud pole to check the depth of the ice,” said O’Hearn.

Despite their casual attitude of jumping into the frigid waters of the Black River protected by their ice rescue suits, the trainees were aware the training was serious preparation in the event they’re ever called upon for an actual incident.

Several weeks earlier an ice fisherman had to be rescued from his car when it broke through thin ice on Lake Onalaska. Luckily for the motorist, bystanders were able to help him out of his car before it completely submerged and EMS arrived on the scene.


Coulee Courier and Houston County News editor

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