One-by-one each individual in a yellow suit took a turn and ventured out on the ice of By-the-Lake Park to the open water, gazed at the floating ice chips, laid down on his/her side and slid into the ice cold water. A second individual, also in a yellow suit approached the open water but was connected and equipped with safety gear. With the support of the rest of the team the ‘Ice Rescue’ began. Ropes, hoops, pulleys and a sled were all put into action.
December 15th was a sunny Saturday morning and the dozen or so volunteer members of the Wetaskiwin Firefighter Ice Rescue Team could have been doing many other things; Christmas shopping, spending time with their families decorating their homes or sitting by the fireplace with a cup of hot chocolate. Instead, they were giving up hours of free time to learn and improve their Ice Rescue skills. The participants treated the exercise as a real incident and used their knowledge, expertise and available support to make the best decision possible.
Regardless of how efficient each of the firefighter teams perform their roles during practise disasters, the training provided to the Wetaskiwin firefighters should bring comfort to the residents of Wetaskiwin and region and especially knowing their progress is continually evaluated. This enables response to a ‘real’ disaster to be more effectively managed in the future.
Wetaskiwin Fire Services Captain Merlin Klassan explained. “The Ice Rescue Team is practicing their skills for donning and doffing ice suits, procedures for ice condition assessments, patient assessment as well as the rescue procedures for high risk rescues that require the Fire Fighter to enter into the area of thin ice and/or open water. The ice rescue technicians practice their skills of patient rescue, assessment and packaging in the late fall and late spring of each year.”
It was interesting to observe the professionalism of the firefighters as they went through the training process. It also became very apparent that Captain Klassan’s role was to support the group when needed but other than that, the firefighters talked, analyzed their procedures as the rescues progressed, suggested how they may improve the procedure and most of all, they worked like a team.
Klassan noted the firefighters were volunteering their time but should not be viewed as anything less than professionally trained and certified firefighters with a skill level equal to those of paid firefighters. “The Wetaskiwin family of firefighters is a team carefully selected, trained and nurtured into a team committed to our safety and well-being knowing all the while that through serving their community, injury or death could become a reality on the next call to duty.”
Captain Klassan describes the culture of teamwork and training
“Teamwork and training are an absolute must. Without a spirit of teamwork, Wetaskiwin Fire Services would not be able to provide Wetaskiwin & area with the high level of service it does. Building a successful culture of teamwork starts at the top and every member of the team must be made to feel like the valued addition they are. A team learns together, and fire departments are especially cognizant of the fact that they may find their life in fellow firefighter’s hands. This means they do everything they can to ensure all members fully understand life-saving processes and procedures, and no one is left out of the learning circle.”
Klassan describes the importance of the Ice Rescue Team. “There are numerous areas of risk within the city for ice and water and the skills the firefighters have learned and mastered allow them to respond safely and effectively to mitigate the hazards. The Fire Department has responded to one ice rescue call this season already and reminds all residents to be cautious when on or near ice this winter season.”
It is comforting to know Wetaskiwin has this specialized equipment and a well-trained Ice Rescue Team available in the event of an accident.