Truckee Meadows ice: Unsafe, potentially deadly

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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) The past few days have left area ponds covered in ice... and that creates a dangerous opportunity that some can't resist.

It also creates an opportunity for the fire department to train to respond - when others put themselves in danger

A 13-year-old died when the ice on a South Meadows pond broke in 2015. A year later another youth died in Paradise Pond.

That's why the Reno Fire Department trains each winter.

The scenario is staged--a training drill--but the situation is realistic. But for the training and the exposure suits everyone is wearing, it's also deadly.

A man has fallen through the ice. Someone has summoned for help. The Reno Fire Water Entry Team is conducting the training, but every rig in the department has this equipment; every fireman is trained to use it.
He works his way to the victim, gets a harness around him and others pull both to safety.

Typically the victim by this time would probably be unable to do much to assist. A trained rescue team is the difference between life and death.

The firefighters train for this, but we can't. What if we're the person in the water?

"They've got about one minute to get control of their breathing because when you fall into cold water it kind of takes your breath away," says Water Entry Team Leader Kevin Joell.

You should yell for help, but if no one's around, Joell says self rescue is your only option and the window is limited.

"You've got about ten minutes of purposeful muscle movement. If you have gotten yourself onto the ice shelf and are clinging onto the ice shelf and are stable, you've got about one hour before fatal hypothermia sets in."

It's unlikely you'll be able to pull yourself out; the ice is too slippery. But bracing your feet on the ice behind you, with a kicking swimming motion, you may be able pull yourself up on the ice.

"There's no traction, nothing to grab onto," says Joell. "So, you've got to really try to lift yourself up while kicking your feet to get up onto the shelf."

It may break again. You'll need to keep trying.

If this looks difficult, imagine those minutes ticking away and you getting weaker. You're getting the message.

"In general the ice in the Truckee Meadows is not safe to recreate on," says Joell,."The number one way of not becoming a victim falling through the ice, is not to go out on the ice. That's our message. Stay off the ice."