Nick Otto sank through the ice Wednesday morning and listened to the encouraging words of his rescuers as they crawled across the pond and pulled him to safety.
“The guys are doing a great job,” Otto said, after he was back on firm ground.
Those “guys” were firefighters from Buffalo Grove, Long Grove, Lincolnshire and Wheeling, who spent about an hour practicing how to respond if a person falls through the ice.
Otto is one of three trained divers at the Buffalo Grove Fire Department. While his days are typically spent serving as a firefighter/paramedic, on this day he spent about 45 minutes in a Buffalo Grove pond, from which rescuers took turns pulling him out.
Though he was dressed in a special diver’s suit designed to keep him dry, leaks left him soaked nearly up to his knees.
“It’s cold out there,” he said, as he stood beside a dry colleague who was wearing a winter coat and thick gloves.
Of course, a civilian who falls through the ice likely won’t be dressed in protective gear. Rescuers know that hypothermia can set in quickly, even in the summer months, and that time is of the essence.
“The nervous situations are when we have to go under the ice to rescue the victim,” Otto said.
Wednesday’s training, which took place beneath a steady rain, followed a day of unseasonably warm temperatures, which weakened the ice.
Normally, Battalion Chief Joe Wieser said, an ice saw would be used to cut a hole in the pond. But by Wednesday, the ice was so fractured that “we just send a couple of guys out and they fell through,” he said.
The conditions helped make the training even more realistic, said John Gilleran, the department’s public education and information officer.
“In all honesty, that’s what’s going to happen. No one’s going to fall through ice that’s 4 or 6 inches deep,” Gilleran said. “They are going to fall through ice that is breaking.”
Surface ice rescue training is not required by the state, said Wieser, who led Wednesday’s drill. But, he said, “anybody with lakes” should be prepared for that kind of emergency.
Training for ice rescues is just one way that Buffalo Grove firefighters prepare for emergencies. The training campus at 851 Krause Drive also holds a tanker car that allows responders to practice dealing with hazardous materials in the event of a train accident and buildings used to practice rappelling, extinguishing blazes and extracting victims from confined quarters. When temperatures drop and the pond again has a thick surface of ice, rescuers will practice pulling a car from the water, Wieser said.
“There are the kind of things that the general public doesn’t know we do,” Gilleran said. ““We’re a ‘what-if’ agency.”
Various drills are held monthly in conjunction with the Long Grove, Lincolnshire and Wheeling fire departments, and Buffalo Grove responders also regularly practice there.