Shepherd fire department conducts annual ice rescue drill

ADVANCE FOR MONDAY, FEB. 11 AND THEREAFTER - In this Feb. 2, 2019 photo, Aaron Lloyd, left, a firefighter with the Shepherd Tri-Township Fire Department, assists James Uthe, a department firefighter/paramedic, while practicing a cold water rescue in Chippewa Township, Mich. The department was conducting an annual training. (Eric Baerren/The Morning Sun via AP)

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SHEPHERD — James Uthe, a Shepherd Tri-Township firefighter-paramedic was treading the freezing water in a hole cut through 11-inch ice to a pond about 15-feet deep. Aaron Lloyd, another firefighter, clipped Uthe to a two-keeled boat. Firefighters on shore pulled ropes and dragged the boat and Uthe out of the water and onto the relative dry of ice.
Mission accomplished.
The mission was annual training for one of the worst imaginable scenarios, someone who has fallen through the ice into freezing water.
“We hope we never have to do this in real life, but that’s why we train,” Kevin Salisbury, a lieutenant with the Tri-Township fire department that their training officer, told the Morning Sun. The department is fortunate enough to have several sets of the neoprene wetsuits that Lloyd was decked out in for rescue operations, not just in their coverage area but should a neighboring department put out a mutual aid call.
Shepherd Tri-Township has five of the suits.
The department’s training started with a classroom lecture at its main station in the village of Shepherd. Uthe showed a video and some slides, stopping at various points to have a discussion with the other firefighters and paramedics in attendance.
They covered a variety of topics but spent the most time discussing how to take care of the medical needs of someone who has fallen into cold water. That included looking at some gruesome pictures of the kind of damage frostbite can inflict.
Once finished, they drove a couple of the department’s vehicles to a pond on the north side of M-20 behind Buck’s Run Golf Course and across the highway from Lapham’s nursery. There, they broke out the department’s water rescue equipment to practice rescues.
One key is safety for the firefighters themselves. During the classroom portion, Uthe said that someone poorly equipped to rescue someone from freezing water doesn’t just place him or herself at risk, but risks creating a second person in need of rescuing from the other firefighters.
That means having the proper equipment at the scene as early as possible.
Tri-Township’s five suits are currently kept at its Shepherd station, and there was some discussion about spreading those out a bit so that rescues can begin more quickly. They also discussed other fire departments that don’t have water rescue equipment.
Salisbury credits support from their community for Shepherd’s stocked arsenal. Although the department has benefited in the past from federal grants, much of their gear for water rescues was purchased through donations from within the community. He itemized what they had and how much it costs. The boat cost $2,500, each coil of rope used to move the boat and aid in rescues costs $750 and the suits each cost $1,200. That is a little more than $9,000 for the three stations fire department.
Shepherd Tri-Township Fire Department covers the townships of Coe, Chippewa and Lincoln townships. That includes the village of Shepherd.