West Kelowna Fire Rescue is prepared for ice rescues this winter.
Fire Chief Jason Brolund explained they average two to four ice rescues per year, which is why all of their professional firefighters receive annual training for ice rescue.
“They’re trained that way so that we can be sure to do that activity safely, because it is a really high-risk activity,” Brolund described. “Over the course of becoming a firefighter they receive certified training, and then every year they spend a day just practicing that skill. Now that we have some ice out on the lake it’s something we take advantage of, because we don’t know how long that ice will last or if it might get really thick. Then we have to cut a hole in it, and the training isn’t nearly as effective.”
Brolund noted the key to ice rescue is getting there quickly, which is why all of their trucks already have ice equipment on them so they are ready to go during winter. There are three bodies of water in the WKFR coverage area that have the risk of breaking ice; Shannon Lake, Rose Valley Lake and Green Bay on Okanagan Lake. Although WKFR is ready to assist if there is an emergency, Brolund is putting an emphasis on accident prevention.
“Basically it’s about being informed,” he said. “If you and your family are going to go out on the ice, take the time to do your research and make sure it’s safe. The ice can be a very different thing on Green Bay in Okanagan Lake than it is at one of the higher mountain lakes. So people who are going to go do this should verify the thickness of the ice, and make sure they have the proper equipment to do that. Skating on the ice is one thing, but if you’re taking snow machines or even cars on lakes, the ice needs to be a lot thicker.”
If someone does fall through the ice, the first thought of any witness should be to call emergency personnel for assistance. After that, they should avoid putting themselves in further danger as it is already difficult to rescue one person, and emergency responders don’t want to also have to rescue the rescuers. If you are the one to fall through the ice, fight to save yourself and try to climb back on it.
“If people do get into trouble on the ice, they should be trying to spread their weight out,” Brolund explained. “Try to spread spread your weight out over as wide an area as possible, and make your way back to shore as quickly as you can.”
Brolund added as long as you have proper respect for the conditions and go outdoors in a safe manner, you should be fine.