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State fire marshal warns of unsafe melting ice

• Feb 24, 2018 at 10:00 AM

As we move into late winter and early spring, dangerous ice conditions begin to prevail across the state.

State Fire Marshal Kevin Sehlmeyer urges Michiganders to stay off the ice.

“Thawing ice conditions on Michigan’s lakes, rivers and ponds are dangerous and will become unpredictable as temperatures rise,” Sehlmeyer said Friday. “Late winter ice many times leads to dangerous situations that could end in tragedy.”

Sehlmeyer shared that first responders statewide have responded to numerous calls for adults, children and pets that fall through the changing ice conditions during the late winter and early spring. People need to realize that their risk increases when using makeshift bridges to get onto ice or cross a crack in the ice to get farther out onto a lake or river.

“We ask parents and pet owners to keep children and pets off the ice as the melt begins,” Sehlmeyer said. “Always call 911 to report individuals and pets in the water needing to be rescued. Nearly 85 percent of ice rescue emergency 911 calls are a result of individuals or pet owners trying to save a pet who fell through the ice.”

If you should fall into near-freezing water and begin to gasp for air and hyperventilate, don't thrash. Rather, remember the 1-10-1 principle according to University of Manitoba professor Gordon Giesbrecht. In the first minute, get control of your breathing. The next 10 minutes is your window of meaningful movement to escape. You will have up to one hour to escape or be rescued before you become unconscious.

Take that first minute in the water to slow your breathing. Look around and determine where the ice is the thickest. Usually, you’ll want to turn to and face the way you came from. In that direction, the ice had been strong enough to hold you (until it wasn't).

Stretch your arms atop the ice surface. Flutter-kick your feet until your body is horizontal, like a swimmer kicks. Kick harder, using your hands and arms to pull yourself onto the ice. Roll away from the hole, and then crawl until you can safely stand.

According to Sehlmeyer, you simply cannot judge or guess ice thickness and safety, especially in late winter and early spring. Watch out for thin ice conditions that can hide cracks and weak spots such as slushy ice, any ice with water on it and snow-covered ice. Ice that has thawed and re-frozen is weaker and will appear milky. As the snow melt increases, ice will become thinner and more dangerous, and may melt faster due to an increase in water flow and stronger currents as lakes and rivers rise.

“If you do see an emergency on the ice or near bodies of water, always call 911 first,” Sehlmeyer said. “First responders are trained and equipped for ice and water rescues, including the rescue of pets.”

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