Firefighters train for the ice
It may have been a frigid weekend outdoors but it was the perfect training environment for the town's firefighters.
The Petawawa Fire Department qualified another four ice/cold water rescue technicians during two days of drills at Petawawa Point where the fast-moving currents of the Ottawa River provided a suitable training ground.
Donning yellow immersion suits, the trainees took turns rescuing simulated drowning victims utilizing inflatable watercraft specially designed for this type of operation.
Supervising the training, Capt. Chico Traclet said the department continues to qualify as many members at ice rescue as they can. With this latest course, the department will have 26 technicians.
"We empower the future technicians more in a command role, to take care of safety and accountability," said Traclet. "They will decide how they will rescue the mock casualties, so we let them fly on their own, with supervision, so they can become more confident in what it is that they are doing."
Before heading outside for eight hours of drills, trainees receive 21 hours of classroom theory. The subjects range from learning what knots to employ and how the body is affected by hypothermia to strategies for rescuing a victim. Then they become familiar with the equipment and learn how to read ice conditions.
However, this training not only enhances the response capabilities of the fire department but it evaluates current operating and safety procedures to ensure the safety of firefighters using the latest techniques and equipment.
"The idea is to do it quickly and safely," explained Traclet. "The person has already been in the water 15 to 20 minutes and they are getting weaker. You don't want to break the ice around them. So you get to them low and slow, hook up to them and bring them out."
One piece of important equipment available to the firefighters is the Rapid Deployment Craft (RDC), an inflatable boat that can be manned by two people and reeled back to shore once the casualty has been plucked from the water. Along with a truck specifically outfitted for ice and fast water rescue, the department is prepared to respond to a submerged snowmobiler or anyone who has found themselves in peril.
Petawawa firefighters have been involved in six successful rescues since this capability was added. The personnel have already proven their training in joint emergency response exercises with the County of Renfrew Paramedic Service and the Ontario Provincial Police.
Officials say residents should be wary of the ice at any time of the year and always check the thickness before venturing out onto it. If they do go out, people should wear the proper safety equipment such as a flotation survival suit and be equipped with ice picks.
"There is no such thing as safe ice, so just stay off the ice," Traclet advised.
The Petawawa Fire Department goes beyond the mandatory training to ensure their members are fully prepared, Traclet said. He said this kind of rescue is really a major team effort from the supporters on the shore who handle the equipment and conduct the first aid to the firefighter who must venture out onto the ice shelf to rescue the victim.
"This training builds confidence for our crew," he said.
Sean Chase is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist