Ice enthusiasts warned: Tread carefully at this time of year

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PITTSFIELD — Just when you thought it was safe to walk on ice, local first responders warn that the frozen water might be weaker than it looks.

The roller-coaster weather during the past month — from deep freeze to springlike warmth — has created inconsistent ice cover on Berkshire lakes and ponds, according to Capt. Ken Cowan of the Pittsfield Fire Department.

"We're in that pattern where the ice can be dangerous. It could be 7 inches thick in one spot and open water nearby," said Cowan, who is trained in ice water rescue.

Winter safety experts consider ice at least 4 inches thick safe to walk on; for snowmobiles or all-terrain vehicles, it should be at least 5 inches; while for small pickup trucks and cars, 8 inches or more is considered safe.

This week, Cowan found Pontoosuc and Onota lakes in Pittsfield with solid ice and no ice at all, the latter especially on the deep ends of the lakes. He even noticed one man ice fishing not far from open water.

"This is a very dangerous time for ice," Cowan said.

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An Eagle photographer Thursday also noticed open water on Cheshire Reservoir as he took pictures of ice fishers on safe ice.

With another one-day warmup forecast for Friday, ice fishing could be riskier for the weekend.

Failure to heed thinning ice can be deadly. A person who falls into icy waters can quickly experience hypothermialike symptoms, which can become fatal if not treated immediately, according to state and local safety officials.

Should you plunge into frigid water, city fire officials say, stay calm, as panicking uses more energy.

The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation website offers safety tips on how to save yourself if you plunge through ice.

As you come to the surface, turn toward the direction you came from, and place your hands and arms on the unbroken surface, working forward by kicking your feet. Once the ice is solid enough to hold you, and you can pull yourself out, remaining lying on the ice. Lying down spreads your weight across a wider area. Roll away from the hole, and crawl back the way you came, keeping your weight distributed, until you return to solid ice or ground.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6233.


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