Firefighters get an ice-cold refresher |

Firefighters get an ice-cold refresher

Dustin Racioppi
Vail CO Colorado

EAGLE, Colorado ” As dusk hit and the temperature dropped into the low 20s, Jeff Barnhardt was in a small hole cracked in the ice of the pond on Eagle Ranch golf course, waiting.

Soon enough, about a half-dozen men from Eagle River Fire Protection District showed up in bubbly orange suits with ropes, flashlights and other rescue equipment. Fourty-five minutes later, Barnhardt was out of the water and being hauled ashore.

Luckily for him, he was in a wet suit to keep himself warm and the rescue wasn’t a real life situation, otherwise it could have been a recovery effort.

That was the reason the scenario was staged. The district has been re-certifying firefighters the past two weeks for ice rescues.

Fire Marshal Tom Wagenlander said the re-certification isn’t necessary, but the district thinks it’s a good idea to mandate the courses and training to make sure the response times are quick.

“People forget what the gear looks like; they forget the procedures; they forget what to do,” Wagenlander said.

He learned last year when he was in the ice for training and started becoming hypothermic that there was a need for the yearly refresher.

“That’s when we realized people were getting so cautious,” he said.

After sitting through hours of classroom material and trying to nail down fundamentals of ice rescue, Wagenlander said many members were forgetting the basics of the rescues, and therefore their response times suffered. He told the group Saturday to not forget about common sense.

“Keep it simple. Keep it moving,” said Barnhardt, a Gypsum firefighter and volunteer diver in Summit County.

By the second staged attempt, the crew had cut their rescue time considerably. Like anything else fire departments deal with, speed is everything. That’s why it’s important to employ common sense whenever possible, Wagenlander said. Instead of plotting how to get to the victim safely, he said to look at the ice, see that there are no cracks and if it appears safe to walk on up to a point, get out there. Otherwise, it could cost the victim.

“The five minutes to do those things can be the difference between a rescue and a recovery,” he said.

It’s also important for the district to conduct the training and re-certification because ice rescues aren’t common in this area. Barnhardt said there’s between 10 and 20 accidents a year.

“We don’t get a lot of these calls. The trouble is when we do, they’re serious,” Wagenlander said.

Barnhardt added that a majority of the accidents happen because of dogs. They’ll run away from their owners, he said, then fall through the ice. Then the owner tries to rescue the dog, which makes for twice work when the fire department shows up.

“It’s not a good idea to jump in after your dog,” he said. “Just call us.”

Firefighter Scott Hixon, who made his second rescue Saturday, said he likes the training, but wants to keep it at that.

“I’d love to pull a dog out but not a person,” he said. “That’s why we’re out here, is to protect that.”

Staff Writer Dustin Racioppi can be reached at 970-748-2936 or

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