Guard takes plunge to save lives

Coastguardsman from the Coast Guard Station in Frankfort were practicing Ice Rescue Drills at Upper Herring Lake Friday.

"It's important for us so that when an emergency does happen we know exactly how we're going to respond and everything is committed to memory," said Petty Officer 2nd Class, Alexander Caldwell. "We can go out there and do it without flaw."

The U.S. Coast Guard has issued a warning that warmer temperatures over the next few days could cause unsafe ice conditions in parts of the Great Lakes.

The ice on Upper Herring Lake was about 4 to 5 inches thick Friday, but with rain and warm conditions the ice is quickly deteriorating.

In the past two winters rescue crews in the Great Lakes saved or assisted 42 people. Many ice rescues involve fishermen.

"So you get 6 inches of ice, after 6 hours of the sun beating on it, it's going to become very brittle," said Petty Officer 1st Class, Chad Pietszak. "By the time you get out of your ice shanty you're going to start breaking through every other step and you're going to end up stranded."

The Coast Guard in Frankfort fortunately hasn't had any ice rescue missions in the past two years, but the drills they are practicing will prepare them for future emergencies.

"Weather conditions are always changing due to weather, winds, current and the ice formation itself," Pietszak said. "Clear ice is going to be your best ice, any kind of pollution or snow on top is going to thaw it quicker."

If someone does fall into below freezing water they have one minute to control their breathing.

"The natural reaction is going to be to take a gasp in," Pietszak said.

They then have 10 minutes of meaningful movement.

"After that your movement becomes impaired and you can't operate radios or cell phones," Pietszak said.

On average there is about one hour of total survival time, but this only goes for people who are wearing life jackets.

"A lot of people wear fishing boots, they're going to become extremely heavy, it's going to be exhausting for you to stay afloat for any period of time," Pietszak said.

That's why the Coast Guard is reminding everyone that ice can be dangerous and unpredictable.

The Coast Guard offers I.C.E. as a precaution for people who are planning to venture out on the ice:

â?? know the weather and ice conditions, know where you are going, and know how to call for help. Never go out alone.

â?? have the proper clothing to prevent hypothermia. Wear a waterproof exposure suit and a life preserver.

â?? have the proper equipment. Carry ice picks or screwdrivers, in case you fall in. Use these items to dig into the ice and pull yourself out; they are more effective than bare hands. Carry a whistle or other sound-producing device to alert people that you are in distress. Carry a cellular phone or marine band radio in a waterproof container so that you can call for help if you come across trouble.