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No dry run for rescue squads - Gazette - 02/19/2008


No dry run for rescue squads: Hilltown volunteers use icy Ashfield Lake to perfect techniques

Goshen firefighter Bill Connell

Bill Connell of the Goshen Fire Department, center, helps a volunteer playing the role of someone who has fallen through ice at Ashfield Lake. Instructor Veronica Mard, at rear, advises during the drill Sunday. The cold water rescue training involved firefighters from Goshen, Cummington, Plainfield, Chesterfield and Ashfield.

Photo by Deborah Doulette

Used by permission.  Copyright GazetteNET.com



GOSHEN - Thirty-degree temperatures and icy rain didn't deter Jeffrey Kernan-Dufresne, 16, from looking forward to taking a plunge into Ashfield Lake. Kernan-Dufresne, dressed from head to toe in a bright red neoprene cold water suit, is a volunteer firefighter in Ashfield.


He and colleagues from Goshen, Cummington, Chesterfield, Plainfield and Ashfield participated in a cold water rescue drill Sunday afternoon on the thick ice that covers Ashfield Lake.


"I was going to just do the ice training part and listen, but I commit 110 percent I've got to do everything," said Kernan-Dufresne. "So I'm going in."


The drill was led by Veronica Mard and her husband, Philip Gilmore, of Deerfield. Mard, a retired firefighter who once served in Amherst, said she and Gilmore volunteer their time to offer cold-water rescue training to towns across Franklin County.


Both are trained dive rescuers and at one point were certified dive rescue instructors. Now, said Mard, they volunteer their time, teach with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency and work for the U.S. Forest Service as well.


Sunday's training involved a few hours of classroom instruction in the morning before the 30 or so assembled fire and rescue personnel headed for the ice. Mard likes departments to bring their own equipment and practice using it.


Goshen's Fire Department practiced, for example, with its new rapid deployment craft - an inflatable banana-shaped boat - two new heavy-duty nylon cold water rescue suits and accompanying lifelines and tether lines. An anonymous donor who is a seasonal resident of Hammond Acres recently gave $5,300 to pay for this trove of rescue equipment.


Before the drill started, firefighters used chainsaws to cut two rectangular holes in the ice about 10 yards beyond the dock at the town beach. Two foot-high ice cubes - created when the holes were sawed - surrounded the edges.


One at a time, fake victims wearing full-body cold water suits entered the holes and started calling for help.


Drill participants practiced a variety of rescue techniques, some carefully maneuvering to the edge of the hole then plunging in to the water with tether lines. They had to first position themselves behind the victim then hook them to the line before volunteers on shore towed them both out of the water to safety.


Goshen Fire Chief Sue Labrie's suit puffed up around her the first time she went in for a rescue, but once she released trapped air she was able to tread water and move quickly behind the victim, clip on the thick rescue line and give the signal to hoist him out of the water. Labrie said she felt no change in temperature when she entered the icy water.


Other rescuers used Goshen's rapid deployment craft, sliding the inflated pontoon-like boat across the ice and over the hole so the victim could reach up, hold on to the boat's sides and be towed safely out.


Mard likes to see rescue personnel practice different methods, using the boats, for example, instead of going into the water.


She reminded participants that Sunday's ice was thick and stable, which meant, for their purposes, it was also deceptive. Usually, when someone falls through the ice by accident, the ice that surrounds them is unstable and rescuers might fall through en route to the victim or when trying to reach shore after the rescue.


Mard took time to talk to a group of curious onlookers and demonstrate rescue techniques. She told drill participants and bystanders that any water below 70 degrees can cause hypothermia - and for that reason the rescue skills she taught Sunday are relevant year-round. Gilmore, her husband, agreed. To him, the most dangerous time of the year can be spring, when open water may have floating blocks of ice in it.


Late in the afternoon, when the rain increased in intensity, the drill started to wind down. Participants took off their colorful rescue suits and became recognizable again.


The giant ice cubes went back in the water, and the inflatable boat was tucked into its tidy portable bag. Bill Connell, 34, a firefighter in Goshen and Cummington, prepared to go home. He had just spent his only day off this week at a lengthy training session and for at least a half-hour he too was in the icy water. He looked like he was ready to do it all over again.


(Wednesday, March 12, 2008)