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Ice Rescues.. Reach, Throw, Row, Go

F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming. (January 26, 2024): In this photo by Airman 1st Class Mattison Cole, Airman 1st Class Victor Glavan and Airman David Dicken of the 90th Civil Engineer Squadron participate in an Ice Rescue Course for military and civilian life savers. The two-day course teaches everything from self-rescue to the medical effects cold temperatures have on victims.

The course begins with classroom instruction on how to retrieve a victim who is submerged in an icy lake without becoming a victim yourself. The first danger facing rescuers is the uncertainty of the thickness and stability of the ice. Students are taught the types of ice formations that may show signs of weakness and to always assume it won’t support you and your equipment. Students also learn how to diagnose and treat hypothermia and other freezing weather injuries.

During the second half of the training, students don exposure suits and practice rescue methods using their equipment in nearby Pearson Lake. The exposure suits not only keep the rescuer warm but also provide plenty of buoyancy depending on the type of suit they wear. As long as rescuers keep their neck above the surface of the water, they also will be kept dry.

Next comes the physical aspect of ice rescues which are summarized in the acronym Reach, Throw, Row, and Go.

Reach involves using pikes, poles, or even ladders to provide a bridge from “safe” ice to the victim. Throw a weighted rope or line to the victim and then Row out to their location. Go out onto the ice or in the water to perform the extraction. Students are also trained in negotiating commonly encountered problems such as equipment failure, changing ice conditions, and patient distress mid-rescue.

These rescuers know that seconds are precious in an ice rescue and that the skills they learn in this course will save lives.