Anyone who has been following the news in the last few months may have noticed a relatively high number of occurrences of people falling through the ice on lakes, ponds, and rivers in Alberta. Tragically, too many of these incidents have been fatal.

This season has had some unusual weather, with considerably warmer temperatures than is typical for this time of year and much less precipitation than expected. These conditions have led to ice conditions that are far different from what would be typical as we head into January, and in many locations, the ice conditions have proven to be unsafe.

With the unusual weather conditions this season, it is crucial to be even more cautious than usual when assessing ice conditions and deciding whether or not to venture onto any bodies of water. Too many families have lost loved ones to these unexpected hazards.

The Grizzly Gazette contacted Sgt. Stefan Manaigre, Detachment Commander for the Swan Hills RCMP, to ask how people can stay safe when it comes to ice safety. Sgt. Manaigre offered some excellent advice: 

“Due to the mild weather we’ve been experiencing, waterways may be icing up at a different pace than normal. A body of water that may normally be frozen by this time of year may still be very thin. Please be aware that the Canadian Red Cross states that the ice should be at least 15 cm (6 inches) for walking on the ice and that it should be at least 25 cm (10 inches) to be considered safe for snowmobiles. Not only is the thickness of the ice important, but the type of ice should also be taken into consideration.

If you are NOT knowledgeable about the thickness of the ice, please stay off the ice. It’s important to note that just because ice may be safe in one spot, does not make it safe in another. Underwater currents impact ice thickness, and it may be unsafe even a few feet away. It’s important to always be vigilant and knowledgeable of your waterways.

If you still choose to go onto the ice and you happen to break through, here is what to do:

1. Call out for HELP.

2. Reach and grab the edge of the ice that you fell in from; the ice was able to support you before you fell in through a weaker spot and may likely support you again.

3. Use the air trapped in your clothing to get into a floating position on your stomach.

4. Reach forward onto the edge of the ice without pushing down – kick your legs and push your torso onto the ice flat, keep your head close to the ice.

5. Once you are back onto the ice, crawl on your stomach with your arms and legs spread out as much as possible, to evenly distribute your weight. DO NOT stand up.

6. Look for the shore and make sure you are heading in the right direction.

If you see someone in danger, please immediately dial 911. While we understand that bystanders would want to run on the ice to quickly assist someone who fell through, there have been many situations where rescuers have turned into the ones also needing rescuing. The Swan Hills Fire Dept. has members that are trained Ice Rescue Technicians and are equipped for ice rescues. The quicker the call, the better the outcome.

We ask that you take the time and speak to your children about being safe around ice, especially this time of year. Having a simple conversation with your children and stressing the importance of staying off the ice can save a life.

Just always remember, if you are not sure, stay away and off the ice.”

The advice from Sgt. Stefan Manaigre underscores the need for vigilance, emphasizing the unpredictable nature of ice thickness and the necessity of staying informed about waterway conditions. As families mourn the tragic losses incurred, it is paramount for individuals to adhere to safety guidelines and refrain from venturing onto uncertain ice. Sgt. Manaigre’s rescue instructions offer a vital lifeline for those in distress, emphasizing the importance of calling 911 promptly and avoiding impromptu rescue attempts. Ultimately, proactive discussions with children and a collective commitment to safety can make a significant difference in preventing further tragedies. The plea echoes: when in doubt, stay away from the ice – a simple choice that can save lives and spare communities from further heartbreak.

By Dean LaBerge, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jan 10, 2024 at 12:39

This item reprinted with permission from   Grizzly Gazette   Swan Hills, Alberta

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