Inside a Lake Michigan ice rescue

Ice rescue simulation

GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) The sight of the Great Lakes covered in ice is particularly enchanting — but that ice is dangerous.

Great Lakes ice coverage is higher now than it was at this time last year. As of Sunday, total ice coverage was at 84 percent compared to 67 percent on Feb. 22, 2014.

Building lake ice often draws people to the shore.

Lt. Clint Holt of the Grand Haven Police Department says just because there is a lot of ice, doesn’t mean it’s safe. Piers are very slick this time of year, often coated with layers of ice.

Holt said if someone were to fall off of a pier into the icy water, it would be impossible for them to get out alone. With weather conditions like we’ve seen so far this February, Holt says, a person would reach hypothermia inside an average of 15 minutes.

If conditions are too rocky, rescuers may not be allowed into the water to rescue someone out.

If you see someone fall in to the water, call 911. Do not try to rescue them yourself. Frequently, untrained good Samaritans end up causing a bigger problem, Holt said.

“Sometimes they fall in, and then we have two people we have to save,” he said.

The best advice is to stay off the ice completely.

How to get out of freezing water

A fall into Lake Michigan will likely require professional assistance. It is much easier to self-rescue from an inland lake. Here are the best things to do after first falling in:

  • Call for help.
  • Stabilize your breathing.
  • Get close to the ice shelf, and spread your arms flat out on the top of it.

At this point you, can use ice awls, if present, to grab hold of the ice. Here is how to get out of the water:

  • With your arms on the ice shelf, let your feet float up behind you.
  • Use your feet to kick hard, and your arms to pull yourself onto the ice.
  • Roll away from the edge, don’t stand until the ice is safe.

If you can’t get out of the water, these steps will help stave off hypothermia:

  • Don’t struggle. The water around you is warmed by your body, so struggling pulls more cold water in.
  • Don’t strip. Winter clothes won’t weigh you down. Rather, they will insulate your body better than less layers of clothes.
  • Don’t panic. Conserve your breath and stay by the ice shelf.

Once you get out, it is important to do the following:

  • Don’t stand on the ice until it is stable. Roll or crawl to distribute weight.
  • Don’t stay in cold, wet clothes.
  • Don’t pour hot water on your body. This can cause burns and cause cold blood to rush back to the heart, which can cause a heart attack.

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