Military News

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Fire, ice mix for imperative training

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 polar plunge.

"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 wrong."

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 recreation point."

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 our skills."

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