You're on Thin Ice: Ice Safety From an Easton Firefighter

Easton Firefighter Chris Mills discusses ice safety during the winter season in Easton.

The following is an article written by Easton Firefighter/Paramedic Chris Mills:

As you drive through the town of Easton, it doesn’t take long before you realize that this is a rural community that is blessed with trees, farms, and beautiful landscapes.  We are also blessed with multiple ponds, lakes and streams.  As one of the town’s public fire and life safety educators, I frequently go to the schools and teach fire safety to Easton’s students.  This year, we will also be educating our students on the very serious issue of Ice Safety. 

Almost every winter, our lakes and ponds freeze, and we, at the fire dept., field calls from time to time asking if the ice is safe or not. 

Let me be clear: THE ICE IS NEVER COMPLETELY SAFE.  Our ponds, lakes and streams have many protrusions that stick through the ice (tree branches, sticks, rocks).  These protrusions, limit the ability for the ice to completely freeze, resulting in an unsafe situation.   It is very common for children to see these protrusions in the ice, and gravitate towards them.  Also, many of our lakes and ponds are either fed by underground springs or streams running into them. Running water on or under ice never freezes completely and is extremely dangerous.  As the father of three children, I am constantly being asked in the winter to take my kids ice skating or ice fishing, and I fully realize that at some point, during the winter, it may actually get cold enough, and STAY cold long enough for the ice to be safe in certain areas.  

If this becomes the case, please allow me to pass on some ice safety advice to my fellow residents: 

1) Please don’t go out alone.  Should someone fall through the ice, it is crucial to have someone direct emergency responders to the area in which the person fell through. 

2) Please let someone at home know EXACTLY where you’ll be, for example the name of the lake or pond that you’re planning on going to.  Easton has too many ponds and lakes to name and some of them even have two names, so it is imperative to know which body of water that you’re on. 

3) Listen and Feel.  While this may seem like common sense, it is crucial to listen to the ice to hear if it is cracking and feel the ice to see if it’s cracking near your feet. 

4)  Don’t go out too far.  Easton has some bodies of water that are over 60 feet deep in certain areas. 

5)  Please consider wearing a personal flotation device or even carrying ice picks.  Both items can be bought at a sporting goods store. 

6) Know at all times when on the ice, the quickest and safest route back to shore. 

7)  Please pick up all of your items when you’re done for the day.  Many times, we are sent on an investigation to the ice because someone sees a hat or pair of gloves on the ice without its owner.

The following is a brief list of things to remember should you or someone else fall through the ice: 

1) CALL 911.  Remember, that if you’re calling from a cellular phone, that you are going to be routed to the state police, so you will need to not only give information, but you will also have to give information as to what town that you’re in. 

2) Don’t panic.  While it is easier said than done, studies have shown that the survival rate for a victim almost doubles when the victim remains calm. 

3) Attempt to hang on to the ice shelf.  The ice shelf is the point where the ice breaks.  It may be possible for the victim to hang on at that point until help arrives. 

4)  If you are unable to hang on the ice shelf attempt to get yourself into the HELP position.  This is a position where the victim bends his or her knees to their chest and wraps their arms around their knees.  You are able to float in this position, but it also enables your blood to circulate around your core. 

5)  Make noise. 

6)  If you see someone go through the ice, DO NOT GO OUT AFTER THEM.  If the ice wasn’t safe for one person, it certainly isn’t going to be safe for two.  Try and reach them with a stick or branch.  See if there is a rope to throw to them nearby.  If you must leave to seek help, leave a land mark on shore pointing to where the victim is. 

Following some of these safety steps can keep us safe this winter.  I can’t also stress enough that it’s important for us to talk to our children about ice safety.  A great family “ice safety drill” is to fill a large bucket or pail with ice, and then fill it with water.  After about 15 minutes, have a contest seeing who can keep their arm up to their elbow in the water the longest.  This stresses to the kids exactly how cold the water is under the ice.  This may give them some pause and cause them to think a little more when they’re around the ice.

One more thing, when in doubt about whether the ice is safe or not.  Guess that it’s not.  In Easton, we are extremely lucky in the fact that we have two public skating areas.  One is at Stonehill College, which is open to Easton residents on certain days and the other is Yardley-Wood rink.  This area is located on Depot Street in front of the Center School.  It’s great when I drive by Yardley-Wood rink in either the fire truck or the ambulance and see everyone out on the ice, playing hockey, skating or just drinking hot chocolate.  More important than that, it’s great knowing that everyone at that rink is safe.


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