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Training on the ice where every second counts

(Photo Courtesy/Mike Beiermeister) Alpena Charter Township Firefighters rotate through single-victim ice rescue training.

Alpena, Mich. —  As temperatures begin to rise slowly, ice begins to thaw and melt on lakes here in northeast Michigan, and while the ice should not be tested, some people still venture out on the unstable surface.

“No ice is safe ice,” said Lt. Tom Tolen.

That’s why the Alpena Charter Township Fire Department practices for these situations. On Wednesday night, the department traveled to the narrows to practice their lifesaving skills. When ice begins to thaw, it can be one of the most dangerous times for venturing onto the frozen surface. Alpena Charter Township Fire Department runs through training exercises at least once a year.

“Right now we have ideal ice where we have some sections that are good and thick, and other sections that are starting to become more what we refer to as “punky” ice,” said Lt. Tolen.

Firefighters practiced single-victim rescue situations. It’s a great opportunity for veteran firefighters like Tim Moggie to pass along their wisdom to the younger members. Moggie has been with the force for over 30 years. The veteran has been with the department since ice rescue training began eight years ago.

“When we’re training, it’s training, but when you’re under real life situations that training means so much,” said Moggie. “You have to know what you are doing, how to do it, and how much to do it.”

Alpena Charter Township Fire averages about two ice rescues per year involving both people and animals. Timing is everything, so speed and communication are extremely important in these exercises.

“If we can’t talk directly to them, we can’t hear,” said Lt. Tolen. “We’ll get somebody between to relay.”

Practicing not only tightens rescue skills, it tightens the camaraderie within the department. When the time comes, each firefighter can depend on each other and get everyone home at the end of the day.