Officials: 'No ice is safe' this year

February 4, 2013 8:35:53 PM PST
A warning from local emergency officials: Stay away from ice on local ponds, rivers and lakes.

They say no ice is safe this year because of this winter's temperature swings.

In the past two months, there were ten emergency calls to the Chicago Fire Department where thin ice gave way.

While experts have techniques to get you out alive - the dangers of thin ice have been everywhere this year.

For the Wessely family of Grayslake - there is a lingering uneasiness a year after their children nearly died in a neighborhood pond while exploring after school one day.

"We would climb on the ice and we'd think we had a good hold and then it would fall underneath you and we would be back in," said Mary Wessely.

Luckily a neighbor's babysitter happened to see them, get a rope, and haul them to safety.

The message that this year there is no safe ice is what the Wesselys and the Chicago Fire Department's scuba unit want people to accept.

"In water temperature like this, you literally have minutes to self-rescue and try and get yourself out of the hole - you are going to lose body heat, you're going to lose mobility, dexterity, and you are going to lose your strength," said Chief Ron Dorneker.

Chicago Fire Department scuba taught us techniques you can use to save yourself if this happens to you.

Even in a dry suit and under the watchful eye of rescue specialists who train twice a day in the water, the experience of being in the drink is scary and dangerous.

They have lots of tools - chief among them, a rapid-deployment craft, also known as a fortuna, to be used as a bridge or leverage point, to get people out. 15-year CFD veteran Brian Coffman braced on the fortuna to pull in one soaking reporter.

"Because of the buildup of ice snow, so you might be walking on what you believe to be out on the shoreline, when in fact you are standing over open water of Lake Michigan," said Dorneker.

So if you fall through ice, here's what to do:

1. Kick your legs back -- get horizontal
2. Pull (with all your might) to roll out of the hole
3. Roll to safety

And if you see someone in the water, don't go in. Instead, throw something for a victim to grip to help them roll out of the hole - a branch, or whatever you can find, and call 911.

"More often than not people don't understand that they're walking on ice that could be dangerous," said Dorneker.

While the actual number of CFD rescues is down this year because there is less ice for people to go out on, Chicago Fire Department officials say they are sounding the alarm because any seemingly safe freeze this winter should not be trusted.

CFD does not break out the cost of rescues because they are accidents, after all, even if they are the result of someone not completely thinking through their plans.


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