by Staff Sgt. Shawn Nickel
354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
3/20/2015 - EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- With
ambient temperatures well below zero already sending the body into
early stages of hypothermia, an icy bath in a lake or river will plummet
core temperatures into dire conditions.
Fire protection Airmen from the 354th Civil Engineer Squadron train
yearly for circumstances such as this to rescue anyone who has taken the
"As the ice begins to melt, some individuals may still be trying to take
advantage of getting out to fish, unaware of how thick the ice actually
is," said Marc Hughes, 354th CES fire protection flight training
manager. "Some are even still utilizing snow machines to cross the lakes
or run rivers. Any weight can cause thin ice to give way."
With hundreds of bodies of water close by, Hughes said water rescues
should be more common. Fortunately, prevention has been an effective
rescue method; however, rescue crews have to be ready at any time.
"Just because it hasn't happened recently does not mean the fire
protection flight shouldn't be prepared," he said, adding that his motto
is "don't train until you get it right, train until you can't get it
Airman 1st Class August Mays went through the training for the first
time this year. His experience was unique after coming from McComd,
Mississippi, where there is no ice on the water.
"I couldn't believe people would be out on the ice so much," he said.
"This is the first place I've ever been that a frozen lake is a
For the Magnolia State native, learning ice rescue was a huge reward.
"Not every firefighter from around the nation is going to get this
training," Mays said. "With our station being 100 yards from a lake and
miles from 20 others, this could become useful real quick."
A rescue truck is equipped with the seasonal equipment, which can be at
any location on base in less than 10 minutes. With only one minute to
dawn their yellow dry suits and seconds to crawl across the ice to a
victim, speed becomes a huge challenge and teamwork is essential.
"When you are talking scenarios like this, seconds matter not minutes,"
Mays said. "Stress can get high and anticipation can be gut-wrenching,
but training is key to overcome the odds. We are lucky to have these
opportunities; although, we will be even luckier if we never have to use