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Ice rescue drill turns real

Alissa Widman Neese • Feb 10, 2013 at 11:00 AM

An ice rescue training exercise unexpectedly turned into reality Saturday when a local firefighter fell during a drill and was taken to the hospital.

The U.S. Coast Guard and more than two dozen local agencies participated in a full-scale disaster drill on frozen Lake Erie, simulating the crash landing of a commuter plane near Marblehead to test coordinated emergency response. More than 250 people participated.

Breann Christiansen, 22, a volunteer firefighter for Catawba Island Township, slipped while pulling a rescue boat across the ice and injured her head and hip, fire chief John Gangway said. 

Christiansen was transported to Magruder Hospital at about 11:45 a.m., where she was no longer listed as a patient as of 6 p.m. Saturday. 

She has been with the department since 2009, according to its website.

”It just goes to show that ice rescue can sometimes be just as dangerous for the rescuers as the ones being rescued,” said Capt. Andy Sugimoto, chief of incident management for the Coast Guard’s Ninth District.

Despite the mishap, participating agencies still considered the training exercise a success.

The drill helped emergency response teams hone their skills and also offered an opportunity to teach people how to stay safe on the ice, said Kyle Niemi, chief petty officer for the Coast Guard’s Ninth District.

Some of their tips, using the “ICE” acronym:

•Intelligence: Let people know where you’re going, plan ahead and don’t go alone.

•Clothing: Dress for bone-chilling conditions by wearing a dry suit or insulated clothing.

•Equipment: Carry a communication device and rescue tools — something as simple as two screwdrivers to use as leverage to pull yourself out of icy water.

Armed with this knowledge and an armada of airboats, helicopters and shore-based rescue crews, emergency response teams trekked icy Lake Erie for about six hours of training at both a short-range and a long-range site.

Agencies involved included the Ohio National Guard, Ottawa County, Danbury Township, the American Red Cross, several local hospitals and the cities of Lakeside, Marblehead and Sandusky.

Anna Gould, of Vermilion, volunteered alongside 50 others who posed as injured plane crash victims. Her husband, John, is a member of the Erie County Community Emergency Response Team that also assisted Saturday’s drill.

Bundled in three layers of clothing and covered in bruises created by makeup, Gould said she didn’t mind braving the chilly weather for the cause.

”I think it’s a great effort by the local community to keep our crews trained,” she said. “Keeping those skills fresh is really important. What you don’t use, you lose.”


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