Rapid City firefighters train for ice rescues

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On a day like Wednesday, plunging into the cold water at Canyon Lake was probably not on your mind, but that's what members of the Rapid City Fire Department were doing. Jon Wilson takes you there to find out why.

Ice rescues are referred to as high risk, low frequency events where the skills of those who perform the rescues perish, or go away with a lack of practice. That's why members of the Rapid City Fire Department do ice rescue training every year.

Rapid City Fire Department Captain Brian Povandra says, "We got what we call our primary rescuers, the one that is actually going out to perform the rescue. Our secondary rescuer is running the whole operations side of it, watching the primary rescuer, and controlling what we call the haul team, which is the people on the rope that are pulling the victim and the rescuer back out of the ice."

The method of pulling the victim out of the water differs depending on factors such as how far out the victim is and what their physical and mental state may be.

Povandra says, "We have many different types of equipment that we can use in an ice rescue. Anywhere from just a guy on a rope to using backboards, ladders, right now we're using a Stokes basket."

Jason Fields is experiencing this training with the fire department for the first time, and after some practice, he says one thing stands out above the rest to conduct a successful rescue.

Rapid City Fire Department Firefighter Jason Fields says, "You have to be able to communicate. There's the safety aspect of it all and just going through the steps and learning the process, doing it over and over."

Along with communication, physical fitness, especially for the primary rescuer is huge.

Povandra says, "There are some physical demands on the firefighter. Being physically fit is really important in all of our jobs, but getting out here on the ice, we're dealing with cold weather, we're getting wet, hypothermia is a big thing."

The standard ice thickness for someone to walk on is four inches, but the freezing and thawing cycle can mean not all four inch ice is the same.

Povandra says, "We really like to preach that no ice is safe ice. Right now, here we're working on anywhere from 2-3 inches of ice, maybe 4 in some places, and as you can see, we're breaking through it fairly quickly. So make sure if you're going out to do any recreation on the ice you have proper equipment on."

The Water Rescue Team performs between fifteen and twenty water rescues on average per year.