Picatinny Arsenal Fire Department certifies neighboring community partners in ice rescue

By Eric KowalFebruary 20, 2024

An interagency training event with the Morris County Sheriff’s Office, Jefferson Township Fire Department, and members of the Picatinny Arsenal Fire Department made it possible for more than half a dozen emergency responders to receive certification in ice rescue.
An interagency training event with the Morris County Sheriff’s Office, Jefferson Township Fire Department, and members of the Picatinny Arsenal Fire Department made it possible for more than half a dozen emergency responders to receive certification in ice rescue. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Jesse Glass) VIEW ORIGINAL

PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. - The Picatinny Arsenal Fire Department (PAFD) routinely plans and practices for water and ice rescue knowing that a call for emergency help could come at any moment.

An interagency training event with the Morris County Sheriff’s Office, Jefferson Township Fire Department, and members of the PAFD made it possible for more than half a dozen emergency responders to receive certification in ice rescue.

The course is designed to provide information and hands-on training to students/team members who may need to respond to surface ice calls. Participants are taught the necessary skills and knowledge to perform life-saving operations in ice rescue, as well as the importance of understanding the dangers of ice.

Emergency response calls are usually received when the ice has weakened because of rising temperatures, then freezing again, or sustained warming.  This can occur anytime during the ice season and particularly when the spring thaw starts.

The Jan. 31 training event was conducted on a frozen body of water here on the northern New Jersey U.S. Army installation. Training included instruction and evaluation of self-rescue. Instructors, students, and evaluators all wore an exposure suit that provides the rescuer with buoyancy and protection from the elements.

“They (emergency responders taking training) will dig a hole in the ice, enter the body of water, and then have to get out on their own power,” said Troy Christman, PAFD Assistant Fire Chief.

(Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Jesse Glass) VIEW ORIGINAL

Maintaining safety for personnel on the scene is always a concern, so each scenario is approached differently. Rescuers can put themselves at risk trying to reach a victim, so planning for the worst-case scenario during an ice rescue is paramount.

As personnel performed their training operations, participants could visibly see the ice thinning as temperatures rose.

“On Friday we had four inches of ice, and now today we have about two inches,” Christman said. “This is the exact situation where we might be called to rescue an ice fisherman who has fallen through the ice as temperatures begin to rise.”

With safety in mind, students were also required to use an ice rescue sled, which can aide in the rescue of a victim who has fallen through the ice.

Prior to the late 1980s, if grabbed and climbed on, all lifeguards were trained to escape by submerging their body deeper. Doing so, the panicked victim, desperate for support would let them go. Since then, all lifeguards stop at a safe distance and extend a rescue flotation device (RFD).

The use of RFDs has become the nucleus of swimmer’s safety in open-water rescue. However, if an ice rescue technician is grabbed and climbed on, the ice rescue suit’s buoyancy prevents escape, leaving ice rescue techs no recourse but to make aggressive moves to escape.

Three other rescue techniques and training exercises were also conducted, all in temperatures in the low 30-degree range, and while hanging on to an iceshelf in water depths of 10-12 feet.

(Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Jesse Glass) VIEW ORIGINAL

The PAFD, during its continuous operations, performs hazardous duties to ensure the safety of military personnel, their families, and the public.

Because of its unique techniques and advanced training, the PAFD also provides mutual aid support to all of Morris County, New Jersey, when needed. The department responded to approximately 400 calls for service in calendar year 2023, six of which involved water rescue where 19 people were saved from floods.

In 2022, 15 PAFD firefighters received Humanitarian Service Medals for heroic actions that saved the lives of 43 people in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.

Hurricane Ida, the second-deadliest storm to hit New Jersey, dumped approximately 6-10 inches of rain over a period of about 18 hours. Twenty-five lives were lost throughout the Garden State as a direct result of the hurricane, nearly a decade after 37 New Jersey residents were killed during superstorm “Sandy” In 2012.

Last year, during a garrison town hall meeting, Lt. Col. Alexander Burgos, Picatinny Arsenal garrison commander, notified installation employees that the Picatinny Arsenal Fire Department (PAFD) was selected for Small Fire Department of the Year by Installation Management Command Directorate-Sustainment (ID-Sustainment), and that Firefighter James Brees was selected as Civilian Firefighter of the Year, and Captain Nolan Rampulla was selected for Civilian Fire Officer of the Year within ID-Sustainment.