It was a cold, snowy, windy Saturday morning ... so the members of the Albion Fire Department went outside.
Their aim was training with the AFD's ice rescue equipment, to prepare themselves for cold weather emergencies like the one that recently led to the death of two men at Sylvan Lake, near Rome City. The only way to prepare for ice rescue is to go out on the ice, so department members picked a frigid February Day to practice their skills at Sand Lake, in Chain O' Lakes State Park. The fact that a snowstorm picked that morning to blow through made it that much more realistic.
While firefighters in waterproof suits played victim in the water, rescuers in their own protective gear crawled across the ice, tethered by rope to a team of backup personnel on shore. Despite spreading their weight out, one still went through the ice himself before they were able to reach and rescue their target.
Later, firefighters used their "banana boat" -- an odd looking inflatable craft designed to reach and retrieve people who fall through. Rescuers can walk on the ice with it, and when they reach open water turn it into a stable platform from which to pluck a victim out of the water.
AFD members are planning to get more cold weather rescue gear and continue to hone their skills, in an operation that could be needed at any moment throughout the winter.
Spreading your weight out on the ice doesn't always help: the rescuer on the left has just fallen through as they approach their victim. It looks cold, but the suits are well insulated and sealed.
The shore crew controls rope that can be used to haul the victim in -- or the rescuers, if they get into trouble.
Rookie Ashley Gray -- who like me is a dispatcher for the Sheriff's Department -- prepares to put a rescue harness on firefighter Marc Leatherman, whose full time job is as a state trooper.
Former Chief Gregg Gorsuch gets back into grunt mode, pushing harnessed "victim" and Assistant Chief Aaron Knight onto the ice. Aaron is a Sheriff's Department deputy; Gregg is a farmer.
The banana boat is an amazing thing. Here the firefighters use it as a life raft as they walk on the ice toward their victim -- if the ice is thin they can slide it, spreading their weight around, and if they break through it becomes a raft.
Once on open water, the rescuers paddle the banana boat to their victim. The opening at the front goes right over the victim, and then they can secure him and haul him to land.