12 Days of Holiday Safety: Day 5 = Safety On Ice

December 17, 2013

New Airboat Added to Lake Rescue Team

The recent string of below-freezing temperatures has prompted more activity on the ice. It’s also resulted in more calls for ice rescues. No matter the temperature, it’s important to remember that there is rarely a definitive answer to the question: When is the ice safe?

There are a number of factors that make that difficult to determine:
Ice seldom freezes uniformly.
It may be a foot thick in one location and only an inch or two just a few feet away.
Ice formed over flowing water and currents is often dangerous.
This is especially true near streams, bridges and culverts. Also, the ice on outside river bends is usually weaker due to the undermining effects of the faster current.
The insulating effect of snow slows down the freezing process.
The extra weight also reduces how much weight the ice sheet can support. Also, ice near shore can be weaker than ice that is farther out.
Schools of fish or flocks of waterfowl can also adversely affect the relative safety of ice.
The movement of fish can bring warm water up from the bottom of the lake. In some cases, this has opened holes in the ice causing snowmobiles and cars to break through.

In preparation for winter weather, the Department’s Lake Rescue team has transitioned to its cold-weather equipment, including insulated wetsuits and this year, the addition of an airboat from the Dane County Sheriff’s Department. It's just the latest collaboration between the two agencies, which both respond for water rescues countywide.
The airboat expands the Department’s capabilities by providing improved transport on both water and ice. The airboat will be housed at MFD Fire Station #1, where it will be trailered and ready to respond 24/7.

The airboat will be handed over at a news conference with Fire Chief Steve Davis and Sheriff Dave Mahoney this afternoon,
Tuesday, December 17 at 2:30 p.m. at Olbrich Park, where it will immediately be put to use for training by the Lake Rescue/SCUBA team.
The City of Madison Fire Department reminds residents and visitors:

  •  Check the ice in several places, beginning at shore and continuing as you go out.
  •  If ice at the shoreline is cracked or squishy, stay off. Don’t go on the ice during thaws.
  •  Use the buddy system – don’t go out on the ice alone.
  •  Have a plan of what to do if you do break through. Carry rope, ice picks and a flotation device to help save your life or that of a companion.
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