Officials: Stay off of thin ice

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PITTSFIELD — Local rescue officials are warning the public that there is no such thing as safe ice — especially this winter.

And with rain and temperatures expected to be in the mid 50s on Wednesday, ice will become steadily less stable for the next few days at least.

"The warm weather has brought a situation that is too conducive to thin ice," said Pittsfield Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski.

"If the ice isn't at least four inches thick, 12 inches for vehicles, anyone who goes out on the ice is risking their life and the lives of any rescuers who will come and try to save them."

According to Pittsfield Deputy Chief Andy Stephenson, an ice fisherman himself, anyone going out on the ice of a lake or pond should bring an auger or chisel to check the depth of the ice.

"On every single lake there are areas that are dangerous," he said. "It's unusual because its been so warm, and you can't tell from looking at it. You just have to keep poking holes in the ice to measure — it can go from safe to unsafe conditions in a short distance."

Already, a near tragedy was reported locally. A Pittsfield man was saved just a few days ago after plunging through the ice on Pontoosuc Lake.

But in Michigan on Jan. 30, rescuers were summoned to Lake St. Clair where six vehicles had broken through the ice and had to be hauled out. Two days later, on Feb. 1, a 30-year-old Michigan man and his 4-year-old son drowned after falling through thin ice on Alderman Lake.

"It's just not prudent to put yourself in danger like that just to catch a fish," Stephenson said. "But it seems like every year somebody falls through or somebody's truck winds up in the lake."

He noted that once someone falls through the ice they are in "immediate danger," because of the swift onset on numbness, hypothermia and the combined weight of wet winter clothing.

And when first responders are called to the scene, although they train extensively for thin-ice rescues, it is risky for them as well.

"Most every fire department around here has good equipment and good training," Stephenson said. "But it still causes all kinds of problems for the rescuers — it's never safe for them either."

For new, clear ice only

2" or less: STAY OFF

4": Ice fishing or other activities on foot

5": Snowmobile or ATV

8" - 12": Car or small pickup

12" - 15": Medium truck

Note: these guidelines are for new, clear solid ice.

Many factors other than thickness can cause ice to be unsafe.

White ice or "snow ice" is only about half as strong as new, clear ice. Double the above thickness guidelines when traveling on white ice.

What to do if someone falls through ice

• Reach-Throw-Row. If a companion falls through the ice and you are unable to reach that person from shore, throw them something (rope, jumper cables, tree branch, etc.). If this does not work, go for help before you also become a victim. Get medical assistance for the victim immediately.

• If you fall in, try not to panic. Turn toward the direction you came from. Place your hands and arms on the unbroken surface, working forward by kicking your feet. Once out, remain lying on the ice (do not stand) and roll away from the hole. Crawl back to your tracks, keeping your weight distributed until you return to solid ice.

Protecting yourself

• Never go onto the ice alone.

• Always keep your pets on a leash. If a pet falls through the ice, do not attempt to rescue it. Go for help.

• If a companion falls through the ice and you are unable to reach that person from shore, throw him something (rope, jumper cables, tree branch, etc.). If this does not work, go for help. Get medical assistance for the victim immediately.

• If you fall in, try not to panic. Turn toward the direction you came from. Place your hands and arms on the unbroken surface, working forward by kicking your feet. Once out, remain lying on the ice (do not stand) and roll away from the hole. Crawl back to your tracks, keeping your weight distributed until you return to solid ice.

• Beware of ice covered with snow, ice formed over flowing water and older ice.

• Ice seldom freezes or thaws at a uniform rate. It can be one foot thick in one spot and one inch thick 10 feet away.

Source: Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency


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