CLINTON — While ice on the Mississippi River has melted, the threat of suffering hypothermia within its current is still at large. As such, the Clinton Fire Department underwent cold water rescue training Monday to ensure safety personnel are up to speed on the procedures.
The department brought in Savanna, Ill., firefighter Bud Mix, who has trained schools and local fire squads along the river for the last 30 years. Over his career, Mix said he’s saved 10 lives following cold water protocol.
Since river temperatures aren’t expected to be swimmable until summer, it’s important for locals to be aware of the facts, Mix said.
“Most of the people that go through ice get themselves out of it,” he said humorously. “Their main concern is getting past their wife to the dryer. But the truth is, when a person goes subsurface in cold water, a very low percentage of them will live.”
Mix said teenagers are the highest risk demographic, and added hypothermia is possible even while water temperatures creep into the 70s.
In Clinton, firefighters are equipped with thermal suits that protect against the cold and enhance safety measures. Three from the department got up-to-speed on the safety training, watched over by battalion chief Fred Roling.
“You can still have hypothermia, even without the ice,” Roling said.
While a cold water emergency hasn’t happened under his personal watch, the department always tries to stay ahead with safety measures.
“Everybody on our department goes through this from probationary guys on up,” Roling said. “We always have to be prepared. These suits are what we’re going to use in our trucks until it becomes warm out because the water temperature remains really low.
“If you jump in with just a life jacket right now, you’re going to slow down and you’re not going to be of any use to anybody.”
Using the suits, rope and other safety equipment, the department trained up on several strategies for rescues. With one device — a looped rope on a wooden rod — Mix showed firefighters how to ensnare someone’s limb in the event that hands are too frostbitten to grab onto objects.
He hopes to provide his knowledge to other entities in the Gateway region, even as temperatures incline to summer weather.