Boone County Fire District Warns Residents of Unsafe Ice
Gale Blomenkamp, Battalion Chief, MPIO - Monday, February 02, 2015

According to the United States Coast Guard there are 7,000 drownings and 20,000 near-drownings each year with over half of those occurring in cold water (70 degrees or less). With a recent spell of cold temperatures, ponds, lakes and streams throughout Mid Missouri are starting to freeze over. The Boone County Fire Protection District would like to remind residents and visitors alike of the dangers of ice, what is considered “safe ice”, and what to do in the event you become submerged or someone you know falls through the ice.

No ice is safe. Every time you step onto the ice, you are putting yourself at risk of falling through and becoming a victim. Remember, ice seldom freezes at a uniform rate. Be especially wary of river ice, as it can be highly variable in thickness due to the erosive action of the underlying river current. River ice is usually 15% weaker than pond or lake ice. With the varying temperatures found in Mid Missouri, ice goes through a freeze-thaw cycle, which weakens ice significantly. Wind speed can also influence ice formation. Light winds speed up the formation of ice but strong winds force water from the edges, which will weaken the ice. Snow covered ice even poses a risk since the snow acts as an insulator and hides warning signs of weak, cracked or open spots in the ice.

A safe thickness of ice is difficult to apply in all cases. As a general rule of thumb, four to six inches of ice is required for safe ice fishing. Eight to ten inches of ice is generally safe for Snowmobiles and ATV’s while 14 inches can support a car or small pickup. However, in Mid Missouri, you will generally not find ice thicker than six to ten inches.

When ice fishing, it is always a good idea to drill test holes as you progress out onto a lake or pond to help judge the thickness and character of the ice. Beware of ice around partially submerged objects such as trees, logs, brush, embankments or dam structures. Do not judge ice by appearance alone. Stay away from cracks, seams, slushy areas and dark areas as this signifies thinner and weaker ice. Be aware of ice that forms at the edges of a lake during the fall, and never go onto the ice alone. Use the buddy system and walk at least 10 yards apart from your buddy. If one person should fall through the ice, the other can go for help and call 911.

Some things that you need to do before venturing out onto the ice is to inform someone of your destination and expected time of return. Always wear a life jacket or personal flotation device (PFD) over an ordinary snow suite or layered winter clothing. Assemble a personal safety kit to carry with you. This kit should include a lighter, waterproof matches, magnesium fire starter, pocketknife, compass and whistle. In addition, carry ice picks or long nails, a rope and a cellular phone. These items could save your life. If you take your pet with you keep them on a leash at all times. If a pet falls through the ice, do not attempt to rescue your pet, Call 911 and go for help.

In the event you fall through the ice, STAY CALM. Do not attempt to swim swimming will cause your body to lose heat much faster than if you stay as still as possible. Your body will lose heat 25 times faster in the water. Use your whistle to attract help. Act slowly and deliberately to conserve heat and turn yourself back to the direction you just came from. Expect a progressive decrease in your strength and ability to move. Make the harder moves to attempt to get out at the beginning, while you can. This is the time to use your ice picks or long nails to get a grip on the ice and pull yourself out of the water. Once you are out of the water, do not stand up. Pull yourself forward with your arms while laying flat on your stomach or roll slowly towards the direction you came from.

If you are with someone who has fallen through the ice, do not go near the hole. It is estimated that 2/3’s of fatalities are “would be” rescuers. Immediately call 911. If you have your rope with you, you can throw it to them from a safe distance and pull or assist them out of the water. If you do not have a rope, find something that you can extend to them to either hold onto to pull them out or keep them afloat until help arrives.

The Boone County Fire Protection District would like to remind all residents to be safe and use caution around all bodies of water and call 911 immediately in the event of an emergency. Your local fire department will have the proper equipment to handle the situation.

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