Though an unseasonably warm winter has kept ice largely at bay, firefighters still need to be prepared for the potential dangers of icy conditions on the river.
Clinton Fire Department Battalion Chief Joel Atkinson said ice rescue training takes place annually to keep firefighters prepared for one of the dangers unique to river towns. Though it is rare that the training needs to be utilized, Atkinson said it is important to be prepared.
“We don’t use it frequently, but that’s a good thing,” he said. “That’s why we practice.”
Ice fishermen and children have been known to fall through ice sheets on the Mississippi from time to time. Firefighters participating in those rescue scenarios wear heavy protective suits to keep warm and dry, and use equipment like hoses to reach trapped victims.
The practice is necessary, Atkinson said, because the suits reduce dexterity and affect movement through the water. A classroom portion teaches much of the technique, but for a firefighter to master the skill, hands-on training is necessary.
“Actually getting out there and getting in the water is the best kind of training there is,” he said.
Good times to train have been scarce this winter. Warm weather has prevented much of the Mississippi from freezing over, forcing firefighters to use what little ice is there. Still, Atkinson said that the simulations are important to keep emergency personnel prepared.
“Living on the river... the risk is always prevalent,” Atkinson said.