Jamesport, Mattituck fire departments hold ice rescue drill

Volunteer firefighters practicing ice rescues in Mattituck. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)
A volunteer firefighter giving a hand signal to rescue workers on shore during an ice rescue drill Monday night in Mattituck. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo photos)

The Jamesport and Mattituck fire departments ran an ice rescue drill Monday night at the southern end of Mattituck Inlet, where volunteers practiced pulling victims out of a frigid pool of ice dug into the creek.

Mattituck Fire Department Chief Steve Libretto said this winter’s historically cold temperatures have created very thick ice on waterways, making for ideal conditions for these types of drills.

“This year has offered us great training,” he said. “The public is getting a better awareness of the dangers of ice, so we have not had an ice rescue in quite some time, but we’re taking advantage of the conditions we have to practice and stay sharp.”

Chief Libretto said there have been reports of people skating and playing hockey, mainly on freshwater lakes and ponds, which he described as less dangerous than walking on frozen salt water — since those bodies of water have strong tidal changes and the salinity of the water makes the ice softer.

“Freshwater ice, children really need to check with adults to make sure it’s safe to be on,” he said. “There are ice skating rinks where they can go, to have recreation on the ice without putting themselves in danger.”

Volunteers were practicing methods of pulling victims to safety using a rope Monday night.

Before the drill begins, firefighters cut a hole in the ice exposing the water below. Then a “victim” played by a firefighter wearing a thermally protected waterproof suit drops into the water to await being rescued.

A firefighter dressed in a Mustang suit is tethered to a rope held by a group of rescue workers on the shore before crawling out onto the ice. When the rescuer reaches the victim, a sling is placed around the victim and a signal is given to the rescuers on shore to begin pulling both to safety.

Firefighters venturing off onto the ice wore Mustang suits to protect them from the icy waters.
Firefighters venturing off onto the ice wore Mustang suits to protect them from the frigid waters.

While it’s important to practice these types of exercises, Jamesport Fire Department first assistant chief John Andrejack said the best way to prevent accidents on the ice is education.

“By getting the safety message out, the rescue may never have to happen,” he said.

Chief Libretto said since there has been a lot of ice — in the creeks, bays and Long Island Sound — some people may have a false sense that it’s safe to venture off.

“It looks like it’s safe but they’ll walk out and fall through,” he said. “It might be safe by the shore, but they’ll get to an area that’s a lot thinner because of the way the water is flowing.”

Chief Libretto said the most important safety tip is people should call 911 immediately instead of attempting to approach anyone in distress on the ice.

“They are probably not going to succeed and it just delays us getting there,” he said.

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