Warming ponds mean danger on ice
Each year, people look on winter with the anticipation of fun-filled snowmobile rides, sledding trips and snow days, but officials say they should keep safety in mind.
Residents go by the carload to local places each winter for sledding, tubing and snowboarding, and to the many local ponds for ice skating. Safety considerations are particularly important in outdoor skating.
“With the snow falling and ice forming, many people are tempted to break out the ice skates and hockey sticks from storage, including myself, in anticipation of some pond hockey with family and friends,” said Clinton, Mass., Selectman Tony Fiorentino. “However, it is also that time of year to be extra careful.”
With ice weakened by recent warm temperatures, skaters and fishers should check the ice quality and thickness before venturing out.
The state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife says 4 inches of “clear, blue lake ice” will still support activities on foot, and 6 inches will support snowmobiles and ATVs. But MassWildlife notes that ice thickness isn’t the only factor: river ice is not as strong, nor is slushy white ice. The presence of moving water below the ice — in inlets, above springs, or near rivers — can also make thick ice weaker than it looks.
Fiorentino is more cautious than the state agency: “According to MassWildlife, 7 or 8 inches of clear, blue, lake ice will be permissible to drive a passenger car or light truck … that is the kind of peace of mind I need before going out on any ice with a group of people.”
Lancaster, Mass., Fire Chief John Fleck said he gets very few calls for ice emergencies, considering the several bodies of water in Lancaster and Clinton. Most of the time, Fleck said, the calls received are a result of people following their animals out onto the ice. A few emergencies are reported, but the fire chief stresses that that does not preclude the need for ice safety.
“It’s a matter of condition. Ever year is different,” Fleck said. “This year, we had a very quick cold snap. We have a lot of good, solid ice, so there’s a minimal risk for this year.”
Fleck also said the most burdening factor when it comes to ice rescue is time.
“A person’s not going to survive very long in the water,” he said, adding that the worst thing ice victims can do is panic once they are in the water.
Fleck said the best method of ice rescue is with a hovercraft, a machine the Lancaster Fire Department has requested but does not currently own. Other methods involve throwing ropes to victims (depending on how far out they are), or going onto the ice with a team of rescuers, a situation Fleck tires to avoid.
When going onto the ice to for a rescue, it is important the rescuer crawl instead of walking. Fleck says this is because weight should be dispersed on the ice as much as possible. The edges on the ice in the area that has been broken are never secure enough to climb back up onto the surface.
“Never go out alone,” said Fleck, offering a last word of advice. “Always have a buddy with you."
Times & Courier