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'It's what we do': Lexington firefighters train for ice rescue scenarios

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Posted at 6:38 PM, Jan 24, 2022

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — On this Monday morning, it feels cold just looking outside. That means it’s an absolutely perfect day for the Lexington Fire Department’s water rescue crews to do a little training.

“That’s why we do it this time of year rather than July. This is the perfect time when it (simulates) real life,” said firefighter Jeremy Miller.

Miller was one of several firefighters who drew the role of playing the victim. He’d chop his way through the not-so-thick-layer of ice on a pond off Newtown Pike, dig himself a hole and lower himself down so the water would be at around neck level. One of his fellow firefighters would then execute the practice rescue operation, and then both pulled to safety.

“We are kind of a catch-all. If you don’t know what to do, call the fire department. We’re fixers,” said Captain Dustin Whited, who led today’s operation.

Whited said too many people in central Kentucky confuse a thin ice coating for something much thicker, and that inevitably leads to problems, which require a rescue operation of some kind.

“We really don’t get good ice around here in central Kentucky. It’s not like Minnesota or other places up north where you’ll see people skating or playing hockey,” Whited said. “It is not safe to be on, it’s not thick enough to hold the weight of a person.”

Nowhere in the Commonwealth does it get cold enough, for long enough for ice to thicken and harden enough on a water body to make it safe for ice fishing or any other activity. These thin ice conditions are perfect for training because that’s exactly the condition firefighters will encounter when someone does take a reckless chance.

“When someone falls in that water, in a matter of minutes they’re hypothermic,” Whited said while explaining the best practices for executing a cold water rescue.

The captain said sending another firefighter onto a pond or lake is the last resort since it’s apparent that a layer of ice couldn’t hold the weight of one person. He said, ideally, they’d throw the victim a rope. But there’s a catch to that.

“You may throw that rope right in front of them, and they’re so cold and confused they won’t understand to grab it, or physically be unable to grab it because of hypothermia,” he said.

Although the insulation suits being worn by the firefighters keep them dry and somewhat warm, he knows this is the last thing they want to be doing. But with only so much extreme cold to work with in this part of the country, they have to take their opportunities as they come.

“Nobody wants to be here. Everybody is cold, you’re cold, I’m cold, but it’s what we do,” he said.

Nothing like a frigid January morning to make you, even more, appreciative of what our firefighters go through to keep us safe in every scenario.

“We are definitely not just extinguishing fires,” Captain Whited added of his firefighters’ many jobs.