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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Essex Fire’s Ice Rescue Team trains with new rapid deployment craft

by Sylene Argent

Photos courtesy of Essex Fire & Rescue

For around the past five-years, Essex Fire & Rescue has housed a group of around ten firefighters, who are specially trained to act as technicians in ice and open water rescues. On Saturday, members of this dedicated team took part in a training exercise out on the ice of Cedar Creek, to get familiar with the newly obtained rapid deployment craft.

  Essex Deputy Fire Chief, Jason Pillon – who obtained a trainer facilitator’s certification by participating in an instructor training course a few years ago – said the training session went really well.

  “On Saturday, we were practicing our practical skills in ice water rescue,” Pillon said. “We simulated pulling people out, who fell through the ice, pulling them into safety, and bringing them into shore.”

  Members of the Ice and Water Rescue Team also got to familiarize themselves with a new piece of equipment, an inflatable rapid deployment craft, that was Council approved in the 2022 Budget. It goes on top of the water, and is suited to help pull someone out of the ice.

  This dedicated team of individuals gather around three or four times a year, in addition to its regular firefighter training, to learn how to respond to an ice or water call for assistance. The team’s members, Pillon said, are also tested on their swimming ability annually, which includes treading water for 15-minutes and a 100-meter swim.  

  The importance of the team is that, in addition to the shoreline along Lake Erie in the municipality, there are also a lot of inland water areas, such as ponds, larger ditches, streams, lagoons, and creeks, where an emergency could happen.

  The Essex Ice and Water Rescue Team works with other agencies through a mutual aid plan during a rescue, including the firefighters of neighbouring communities, the Coast Guard, and operators of other rescue vessels.

  Essex Fire & Rescue’s rapid deployment craft can only put the rescuers out so far during a rescue. “We can rely on neighbouring municipalities for the use of a boat and the JRCC, which is the Coast Guard.”

  Pillon explained there are different situations the team can respond to, including in swift water – when water is moving at one knot or more, ice water, and surface water rescues. “We are actually going to be out training again on surface water,” he said.

  “Any time anybody goes into the water, the biggest thing in ice water rescue is hypothermia. We want to get them out as fast as we can,” Pillon said. “The cold water is the biggest concern.”

  “The team is really good. They really honed their skills,” Pillon said of the firefighters on the team. “They are very good at what they do. They always want to learn new techniques and practice different techniques.”

  Pillon added, “We train for the unpredictable. We don’t know what is going to happen, but we want to be ready.”

  Essex Fire Chief Rick Arnel and Pillon thanked their Ice and Water Rescue Team for their dedication to this specialty training.

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