By Sheriff David Kramer
As we are starting to experience the change in weather it is important to remember safety around frozen lakes and rivers.
The cold spell made ice in the area for the most part thick, but the warming trend and the closer that we move towards spring can make even thick ice not safe to be on.
Once spring thaw begins, ice weakens considerably and other conditions can also cause weaker ice, such as submerged sticks, beaver routes, moving water below the ice that have kept ice from being as thick as other parts of the lake or river.
Kootenai County has had two fatal accidents this winter from people that have fallen through the ice and drowned, one in an apparent attempt to rescue a dog that had fallen through the ice.
For anyone who has ventured on the ice, whether to ice fish, ice skate or just to cross a frozen body of water the thought is terrifying of what would happen should you break through the ice and fall into the water.
If you fall through the ice, it is not being able to get out that usually kills you. Once immersed, hypothermia starts to begin and the longer that your body is immersed in cold water you will start to lose your basic motor skills.
That is why it is important to have the right safety gear if you are out on the ice you should be prepared to self-rescue.
For around $15 you can find ice picks to have around your neck in case you break through the ice these can be used to help you get purchase on wet ice so you can pull yourself from the water. Some people have even used large nails that they can grab a hold of and stab the ice to help pull themselves out if they were to break through the ice.
The ice picks are a much safer item, but both would work in an emergency.
Wearing a personal flotation device anytime that you are around water is a good idea.
If you fall through the ice and go under, it is extremely difficult to see or find the hole that you fell through. If you do break through, do everything you can to keep as much of your body out of the hole. Kick and try to fall so you lay flat on top of the ice, then try to shimmy to safety on thicker ice. This is where an ice pick can really make a difference.
Over the years, I have helped recover two snowmobiles that had broken through the ice, different years, different lakes, after riders tried riding them across the iced-over lakes.
Both snowmobiles sank to the bottom and the ice had refrozen over the holes.
In both cases, we had to recut a hole in the ice and dive down to recover the snowmobiles. For ice diving we always have a tether attached to us because once we get below the ice, it is very hard to see the hole that you entered through, the only way back out.
At an ice diving training class we attempted to use our dive knives to see if we could chip away the ice from below the surface in case of an emergency where we were separated from our tether rope, as seen in some movies.
We found out it’s nearly impossible.
There are many drownings each year when people fall through the ice while trying to rescue a dog or other animal that has broken through.
If you see an animal that has broken through, do not try to go out and rescue it yourself. The best and safest thing to do is to call the sheriff’s office to get help from people trained and with the appropriate safety gear to handle the rescue.
Make sure that you discuss ice safety with children, as it is tempting for the to go out and explore frozen lakes, creeks and ponds, but it can be dangerous, especially as we are moving closer to spring weather.
You can’t rely on just the thickness of ice, as the integrity of the ice itself also matters as to what it can support.
If you are on the ice and it starts to crack, we suggest that you flatten yourself out on the ice to spread the weight out and even roll back or crawl towards safety.
You should never be out on the ice without someone else watching, and it is always dangerous to be out on ice on rivers with flowing water below the ice.
Remember, having safety gear is no replacement for using your common sense.