Oak Bluffs fire department drills for ice rescue

Oak Bluffs fire and rescue personnel practice ice rescues on Crystal Lake with a new "rapid deployment craft." — Photo by Ralph Stewart

In a matter a seconds, falling through the ice can be a life-threatening danger. Even in the best of conditions, it is a matter of minutes before a person is incapacitated by the frigid water.

Trying to rescue someone who has fallen through the ice, can also be dangerous.

On Sunday, Oak Bluffs first responders got a chance to practice ice rescues with a new “rapid deployment craft.” The small inflatable boat can hold up to five people, and is designed to help rescuers work in any kind of situation.

“It’s going to make our operation a lot more efficient and safe for everybody,” said Oak Bluffs acting fire chief John Rose. “What makes it really unique, you can go from water to ice. A lot of rescue tools are made only for ice, you can’t go over the water and to ice.”

The first responders got a chance to practice such a rescue on Crystal Lake, where there was a combination of ice and open water.

The inflatable raft has a floor platform, where rescuers can kneel and paddle the raft to a victim like a kayak. There are openings under the upraised ends of the raft, so rescuers can maneuver the boat over a victim, and pull them up onto the inflatable floor.

“When you grab the victim, he’s already inside the raft,” Chief Rose said. “It’s safer for the victim, and rescuers don’t even have to get into the water.”

Purchase of the raft was authorized by voters at a special town meeting last fall. The money came from the ambulance reserve, funded by payments to the town for ambulance services.

The total expenditure for the ice rescue raft and safety equipment was $7,900, including safety rope and survival suits.