Firefighters brave icy water for annual drill

By Caitlin Russell | Jan 26, 2013
Photo by: Caitlin Russell The Wareham Fire Department had its annual cold water drill on Saturday.

Firefighters do a lot of things that many of us civilians find terrifying… all to keep the public safe.

If somebody falls through the ice, or ends up in dangerously cold water some other way, the fire department jumps in.

On Saturday, Jan. 26, members of the Wareham Fire Department headed to a frozen Tihonet Pond to practice cold water drills. Donning survival suits, they learned to work as a team in the water.

“I love it," said firefighter Matt Tavano, who did the drill for the first time on Saturday. "It’s not cold at all. … It’s not crazy. It’s precise madness.”

The annual drill teaches the firefighters how to rescue people who have fallen through the ice, and get themselves and the victims safely back to dry land. It also gives them a chance to make sure the survival suits aren’t leaking.

On Saturday, the ice was so thick at Tihonet Pond that firefighters had to use a chain saw to break through. Then, clad in their survival suits, the groups of trainees jumped up and down on the frozen pond until they broke through.

Normally, firefighters would go out on foot instead of using a chain saw.

“They keep walking until they break through the ice, so they know what it’s like to be a victim,” said firefighter John Kelley, one of the Wareham Fire Department’s Ice Rescue Technicians.

The firefighters also have to learn how to stay upright in the buoyant suits.

“You lay back and you’ll rise up like a turtle on its back,” said Kelley. The suits "are a little cumbersome."

Firefighters took turns playing the “victim” and acting out rescue scenarios using an ice sled, ice boat, and a rescue surf board.

Although head-to-toe survival suits covered them almost completely, the upper halves of the firefighters' faces were still exposed to the elements.

“We run through several different scenarios,” including how to get out of the water and redistribute their weight so they don’t fall through the ice, said Kelley. “We train every winter on this."

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