By Chris Maza
LONGMEADOW – The Longmeadow and East Longmeadow fire departments conducted a joint training session on ice and cold water rescue procedures at the Fannie Stebbins Memorial Wildlife Refuge on Pondside Road.
Longmeadow Fire Chief John Dearborn explained the routine training was conducted together due to the communities’ close ties through mutual aid agreements.
“East Longmeadow is our primary mutual aid partner and they’re a great partner, Dearborn said. “We have like equipment and like procedures, so it’s really important to train together.”
Dearborn pointed specifically to an April 2019 deadly incident in which a man’s car became submerged in East Longmeadow’s Heritage Pond as a recent example of how training in tandem was valuable.
“It was a very unfortunate call, but we immediately all responded and we all worked together as if we were one department,” he said.
As the training went on, a man took to the ice nearby on skates and carrying a hockey stick, occasionally stopping to observe the training. Dearborn acknowledged that it appeared the person was familiar with ice safety but cautioned that ice conditions can never be assured completely safe.
“Ice is really unpredictable. Pond safety can never be 100 percent guaranteed, especially this year with the way the weather has been going up and down,” he explained. “You need a couple weeks where there’s sustained periods of days below freezing and nights below freezing and we just haven’t had that this year.”
Recognizing the dangers of open water ice can save lives and prevent the need for public safety interventions and the Longmeadow Fire Department regularly advises parents to educate their children in an effort to avoid tragedies like the recent death of two boys in Chicopee who fell through unsafe ice. Dearborn added some notices spread through social media and the news state the ice must be four inches thick, but it isn’t that simple.
“The ice forms from the shore outward, so if you test it at the short, it could be four inches, but in the middle, it could be a lot thinner,” he said.
Ice conditions and thickness is subject to a number of variables beyond temperature. Underwater springs and currents, road salt from runoff, vegetation and even bird activity play a role.
In the event that someone falls through ice, their odds of self-rescue are extremely low due to the immediate effects cold temperatures have on the human body. However, those who are accompanying someone who falls through the ice should not attempt a rescue on their own.
If you witness someone fall through the ice, call 911 immediately and tell the person to remain calm and not struggle. If there is a rope, stick or another object to which they could hold and it is safe to do so, you can attempt to reach them.
If the victim goes underwater, make sure to know exactly where they submerged as it can increase the opportunity for rescue.