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Fire department crews train for ice rescues

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Recent snow, ice and freezing temperatures provided the perfect conditions for Columbus firefighters to spend a morning training for a winter rescue.

During a training session Wednesday at the pond behind Mill Race Center, firefighters donned cold-water immersion suits and assembled equipment that would be needed during an ice-water rescue.

Mayor Kristen Brown volunteered to be the “victim” who had fallen through the ice and needed to be pulled safely from the frigid water.

Equipment used during the training was purchased with money raised from the sale of the mayor’s city-owned SUV after Brown took office in January 2012.

“We didn’t want to go another winter without this equipment,” Brown said, adding that Wednesday’s training also was a time to remind residents of the dangers associated with icy bodies of water.

Columbus Fire Department spent about $22,000 to buy the cold-water suits, plus other rescue equipment, including two inflatable rafts.

Columbus Fire Chief Dave Allmon said the suits keep the rescuers warm while they battle the elements and unpredictable situations while trying to save lives.

“Those who are in the water might be panicking and scared,” Allmon said. “We need to make sure we keep our people safe during the rescue, too.”

Allmon watched Wednesday as firefighter Chris Tuttle, wearing one of the special suits, crawled slowly onto the ice with a rope tied around his waist as other firefighters watched from the pond’s edge.

Tuttle had to return for an ax to be able to make a hole in the ice, but Allmon said the thickness of the ice can vary from one area of a pond to another, and what appears to be a safe place to walk can be deceiving.

“There is no such thing as safe ice,” Allmon said. “In a typical winter here, conditions are not cold enough, long enough for traversing.”

After a hole was made, Brown, also wearing one of the special suits, crawled out about 30 feet with Lt. Ron Sexton and Brown climbed into the water. The suit kept her warm and also provided a buoyancy to keep her afloat.

Sexton used a flexible rescue ring, which fit round Brown’s body, then lifted her out of the water. As Sexton held on to Brown, firefighters on the bank pulled the rope attached to Sexton and pulled the two across the ice to land.

Russell Hardin, the fire department’s training officer, said practice sessions such as this one are invaluable in preparing firefighters for real-life ice rescues.

“It’s extremely important,” he said. “Just look at all the bodies of water we have all over the county.”

Some cold-water rescue equipment will be available at each of the city’s fire stations, Hardin said, and regular training sessions are aimed at eventually having all of the firefighters trained to use the equipment.

Initial training was conducted in January 2012 for no charge by a Cincinnati-area fire department.

Before the addition of the equipment, the Columbus Fire Department had a limited supply of items that could be used in an ice-water rescue.

Allmon said they had some old rope and two cold-weather suits that leaked.

The critical need for more equipment and training came to the public’s attention after the death of 16-year-old Derek Lodestein, who died after falling through ice into Terrace Lake off Terrace Lake Road.

Two other teens with Lodestein were rescued, but Lodestein slipped under the ice during the December 2010 tragedy.

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