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Ice rescue training conducted at 108 Mile Ranch

South Cariboo Search and Rescue seeks to ensure positive outcomes during rescues

It may not be something they do every week but conducting ice rescues is an important tool in South Cariboo Search and Rescue’s toolbox.

On Saturday, Jan. 27 several members of SCSR pulled on their dry suits and conducted mock rescues at the 108 Mile Ranch Lake. Teaching them was Neil Mason, the SCSR’s vice president and resident certified ice rescue trainer, who drilled them on the proper ways to approach a hole in the ice, how to enter one safely and how to extract themselves and a person in distress from the water.

“What we did here (Saturday) was ice rescue technician certification training. Friday night we were in a classroom learning the ice rescue practice and today we’re learning the knots and rigging required to go operational with an ice rescue and doing some mock scenarios,” Mason said. “Our trainees learned how to self-rescue and perform a series of operational tasks that follow a protocol.”

Mason chose the 108 Mile because he was hoping the ice conditions would be poor to better simulate unstable ice. However, he admitted ruefully the ice was more solid than he was expecting so his trainees did not experience how ice will often break under a human’s weight around the hole the accident causes.

Despite this Mason still treated the scenario realistically instructing his students to walk with low centers of gravity and drag out kayaks near the hole. He explained that when the ice is weak there’s a risk rescuers may fall into the water as well, so having a flotation device that doubles as a stretcher for a patient is good to have on hand.

After having his students practice throwing a rope to a person in distress, Mason had them perform self-rescues. Slipping into the chilly water one by one the trainees each had to extract themselves on their own.

They achieved this by gripping onto a nearby ice shelf and crawling onto it while kicking in the water to gain extra momentum. As they exited Mason told them to roll away from the hole, noting again that in a real situation, the ice would be weak around the edge and likely break.

SCSR member Rose Frost said she found the training to be a lot of fun even if the water was a little cold, remarking wryly that’s just the Cariboo.

“The first time you’re in there I really did feel like, ironically, a fish out of water but you get over the shock of the cold and figure out how to stop bobbing around like a rubber duck,” Frost said. “You just focus on what you’ve been taught to do. Once you’ve done it a couple of times it becomes second nature and is honestly pretty fun.”

When conducting an ice rescue Frost said Mason taught her and the other rookies to never trust how the ice looks and always be cautious. When doing a rescue they should go out in pairs and have a backup plan for if things go wrong.

After the self-rescue, Mason had the group practice rescuing an individual by looping a rope around their body and having the rest of the team drag them out. Frost and the others took this duty seriously, calling out to one another and providing instructions like they would in a real emergency.

Typically Mason remarked it is rare for the SCSR to be called out for ice rescues. Saturday’s training was just to ensure that should they ever be called out to such a situation they have the training to respond safely and effectively.

“It just affects a positive outcome for both the rescuer and for any subjects that happen to get themselves in,” Mason said. “We want to be in a state of readiness.”

Frost joined search and rescue in the fall of last year as a way to meet new people while providing a useful service for the community. She remarked that SCSR has been a fantastic group of people to get to know and work alongside.

“These are people that, at some point, I’m probably going to have to rely on to save my life. It’s important you bring your whole self, making friends and hopefully build a strong team you can rely on,” Frost said.