On a cold Sunday morning, Matawan Fire Cpt. Richard Michitsch walked out onto a frozen Lake Lefferts to re-cut square holes in the three-inch deep ice for emergency responders to simulate rescuing a victim from the frigid water.
After an instructional session the morning of Jan. 27, the members of the Matawan Borough Fire Department, the Matawan First Aid & Rescue Squad, the Matawan Police Department Advanced Services Unit and the Hopelawn Fire Department suited up in rubber body suits and prepared to plunge in.
To become certified to perform an ice water rescue, Michitsch explained, emergency personnel had to successfully perform three different rescue methods as well as extricate themselves from the ice.
The first method involved walking alone across the ice, striking the frozen lake ahead with a pole repeatedly to prevent the rescuer from stepping where the ice is too weak.
The second involved laying on a sled and using tiny ice picks to skate across the frozen lake toward the victim. This method can be helpful when the ice is thin as it distributes the weight of the rescuer more evenly, Michitsch explained. It can also be easier on the rescuer if there is a long distance between the victim and the shore.
The third involved tossing a safety bag to the victim. Depending on the status of the victim, they can hold one while a rescuer goes to them or the rescuer can help pull them out of the water and onto solid ground.
In additional to the technical aspects of the training, emergency responders also took turns running the ground operations from the bank of the lake.
The practical ice training was just a third of the overall certification process to qualify for water rescue, according to Michitsch. The instructional class and the Spring water rescue practical are also part of the training.