Firefighters on ice: emergency training

Alexandra Finkel

Firefighters in bright yellow inflatable suits crowded parts of the Lakefill for the last two days, jumping into the water and rolling around on the ice.

This was part of the Evanston Fire Department’s surface ice rescue training this week for interested firefighters, Chief Alan Berkowsky said. Training began Tuesday and will end today.

Less than two months ago, a female Evanston resident and her golden retriever were rescued by firefighters after they fell into the NU Retention Pond.

“A part of our job is to be ready for anything,” Berkowsky said. “It paid off a month ago, but it was only because of training like this.”

The department tries to arrange surface ice rescue training every year, but it’s dependent on ice conditions, Berkowsky said.

“It’s good training; it’s intense training; it’s important training,” Berkowsky said. “But it’s the true measure of whether we can get out to a person in trouble.”

In order to be certified, firefighters must participate in a one-day training session, which includes classroom logistical learning in the morning and hands-on rescue techniques in the afternoon, Captain Pete Casey said.

“With water rescue, everything takes time,” Casey said.

Firefighters drilled two holes through ice near the Lakefill’s northwest side Tuesday afternoon so training participants could take turns jumping in to simulate drowning.

Participants work through four to six hands-on drill stations to engage in live action scenarios and learn proper rescue techniques, Casey said. Additional firefighters stand on the ice in case emergency strikes. Students also practice self-rescue techniques and learn how to use equipment like poles and ropes.

Casey emphasized the importance of rescue from behind.

“It’s better for everyone,” he said. “There is less chance of someone pulling and taking you down.”

Participants wear Mustang Survival flotation suits, which inflate when submerged and protect the wearer from the icy temperature.

“It was surprisingly warm,” fireman Courtney Edwards said. “I was sweating when I came out.”

Edwards, a fireman and paramedic who has worked for Evanston for five years, said he got his certification to be more versatile.

“I just want to be as helpful as I can to the department,” he said. “I want to learn how to perform any task that is called for.”

The experience was eye-opening, Edwards said.

“It was much harder than I thought it was going to be,” he said. “The dexterity is different. Tying a knot with gloves and trying to rescue someone was very difficult and so was getting the air out of the suit.”

Still, participants tried to have fun during the exercise, Edwards said. They rolled around on the ice, laughed and even poked fun at each other, he said.

“As serious as it is, we try to have fun,” he said.

Between 20 and 24 firefighters will receive their certification by the end of the week.

After completing training, Edwards said he feels comfortable should he ever have to use what he learned.

“I feel confident with not only myself but also with my team,” Edwards said. “Everyone does a great job and really wants to do well with the task put in front of them.”[email protected]