Ask an Official: Fire chief discusses water/ice rescue training
This week’s featured question was submitted for a member of the Merrill Fire Department
The question reads:
“I’ve always been curious how much of the fire fighters training is focused around water or ice rescue, since the city is basically built along two rivers? What does this type of training involve? Are any of the firemen professional divers or do they call upon other organizations for assistance with that sort of thing? I can’t imagine all the circumstances and possibilities you folks must try and prepare for. This subject is very fascinating to me. Thank you for everything you do for the safety of our community!
Answer as given by Merrill Fire Chief Josh Klug:
“The Merrill Fire Department provides water and ice rescue on the two major rivers running through the city, the Wisconsin and Prairie. Dams on the Wisconsin River create Lake Alexander and the Merrill Flowage. The MFD also responds to Lake Pesobic and Tug Lake, as well as numerous smaller lakes, ponds, and streams. Lakes alone are over 1,200 acres thus the need for adequate water and ice rescue capabilities.
“The Merrill Fire Department no longer has a dive team and only performs surface water rescues. The dive team was disbanded several decades ago due to lack of funding, training, and need to maintain such a team. When divers are needed, the Merrill Fire Department requests assistance from Marathon County, Oneida County, and Tomahawk.
When conducting surface rescues on the water, the Merrill Fire Department has different tools at their disposal including Boat-69, a Rapid Deployment Craft (RDC), and swiftwater rescue suits for personnel. Boat-69 is a 16 foot flat-bottomed boat powered by a 40 horse Mercury motor. The RDC, typically referred to as the banana boat because of its looks, is an inflatable craft that is highly mobile and versatile. Rescuers can use it at an emergency water rescue scene including ice rescues. Finally, the Merrill Fire Department stocks special water rescue suits for personnel to wear if they need to physically get into the water to save a life.
When conducting ice rescues, the Merrill Fire Department relies once again on a tool like the RDC and cold water or “gumby” suits. If ice conditions allow and the rescue is needed quite a ways off shore, the fire department might mobilize its off-road rescue UTV. Using the UTV allows staff to get closer to the incident and have a safe method of transporting a victim off the ice.
“All 23 members of the Merrill Fire Department are cross-trained as firefighters, Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), and Rescuers. Merrill Fire/EMS personnel are capable of handling rescues like motor vehicle extrications, confined space, hazardous materials, low-angle, and water. While difficult at times to maintain proficiency all of these essential life-saving functions, the community significantly benefits from the same personnel being capable of handling the duties. If split into individual departments, there would be a significant cost increase to provide all of these services.
To maintain proficiency in ice and water rescues, Merrill Fire/EMS personnel are commonly trained through two methods. Whenever possible, basic training in ice and swiftwater is typically done by outside trainers first when personnel join the department. This basic training provides the fundamentals needed to perform ice or swiftwater rescues. In addition to basic training, everyone on Merrill Fire Department trains at least annually on both ice and water rescues. This hands-on refresher training gives each member the chance to hone their skills and test any new techniques.
“Throughout the year, Merrill Firefighter/EMTs are constantly training on their three primary response duties: EMS, fire, and rescues. The mission of the Merrill Fire Department is to prevent harm and preserve life and property with a compassionate and highly trained team. Training will continue to be an essential component of their duties including water and ice rescue.”
Have a question or concern you would like to address? Simply send your question or concern to firstname.lastname@example.org along with an indication of which entity your question or concern pertains to. Current participants are the Merrill Police Department, Merrill Fire department, Tomahawk Police Department, Merrill City Administrator Dave Johnson, Merrill Area Housing Authority Director Paul Russell, Lincoln County Clerk Chris Marlowe, Lincoln County Forestry Land and Parks Director Kevin Kleinschmidt, Lincoln County Administrative Coordinator Jason Hake, Local DNR Conservation Warden Curt Butler and Merrill Area Public Schools (MAPS) Superintendent Dr. John Sample. Please note: Those who submit to the ‘Ask an Official’ feature remain anonymous.