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Fire departments break the ice

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Personnel from three fire departments participate in the inaugural joint ice rescue drill at the Mill Pond. The departments all worked together to be better prepared for ice rescue situations. Photo by Carolyn Carter
Carolyn Carter
Staff Writer

  The cold conditions Jan. 19 did not stop the fire departments of Eastern Plumas County from having a play day on the ice with their inaugural joint ice rescue drill at the Graeagle Mill Pond.

  Personnel from three fire departments — Graeagle fire, Beckwourth fire and Plumas- Eureka fire — glided out to the middle of the frozen Mill Pond that Saturday to practice the complex challenge of ice rescue.

  Graeagle Fire Chief Ed Ward organized the drill. Ward said this was the second year Graeagle fire has practiced ice rescue, but the first time other fire departments have joined in on the drill.

  Ward said a couple of years ago a dog was rescued out of the Mill Pond after it had fallen through the ice. It was that incident that compelled the fire department to learn more about ice rescue to be better prepared for ice rescue situations.

  “We identified a danger,” said Ward. “Though it is low-occurrence, it is high-risk.”

  Beckwourth Chief Greg McCaffrey said Beckwourth Fire Department has been practicing ice rescue drills internally for some time, but they were fortunate Graeagle wanted to get involved.

  The drill featured two different scenarios. In one scenario the rescue team had to enter the chilly water to rescue someone on the other side of the ice. In the second simulation the ice had broken and someone had fallen into the water.

  The night before, Ward and some of his crew used a chainsaw to cut a hole in the 12 inches of ice covering the Mill Pond. They let it freeze over again overnight to have realistic pieces of ice floating around the scene.

  The departments were divided into rescue groups, with care taken to intermingle personnel from different departments. McCaffrey said this was because in a real-life situation everyone would be working together.

  The “victims” were department members equipped with well-insulated wetsuits to protect them from the frigid water.

  “We have our very own polar bear club,” said one member of the audience.

  The more experienced members of Beckwourth fire oversaw a lot of the process and offered advice to the groups working at each scenario.

  “This is a great thing, it really is,” said Ward. “We aren’t experts, but at least now we’re better-prepared. It’s all about safety.”

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