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Ice rescues faster, safer thanks to new raft

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – A new tool is helping first responders save people trapped in icy waters.

It’s part of the training Pike Township firefighters have been doing this week at the Eagle Creek Reservoir. The drills ranged from rescuing one person to two. Some victims were floating in the water, others were on the ice but unable to move.

Those scenarios are nothing new to the Pike Township Fire Department, but one way they’re getting people back on land has changed.

It’s a chilling situation when firefighters brave the frigid waters to save someone, and are then forced to maneuver across a tricky, slick surface.

“Between the water lapping up on it, the temperature changes, there were areas yesterday that were kind of iffy to go out on and we kind of avoided, today they’re solid.” said Deputy Chief Chris Bachman, Pike Township Fire Department. “There was also some spots yesterday that we were fine on that today we’re avoiding.”

That unpredictability could put these crews on thin ice.

“You want to be able to get somebody out on the shelf as quick as possible,” said fireighter Darius McClendon. “The longer we wait the more problems develop.”

That’s where the new Rapid Deployment Craft (RDC) comes into play. It takes about a minute to inflate and can fit more than one person. The department recently bought two of them.

“The ice may be soft. It may be a situation where we’ve struggled getting out to them because we’re falling in, or falling through the ice,” said Deputy Chief Bachman.

But the raft keeps them above water and helps transport victims in a safer, faster manner. It’s a tool that would have come in handy about a year ago not too far from where the training was happening. A man fell into the water in March 2014. Before rescue crews arrived, he was able to partially pull himself out of the water but was still far from shore.

“Had to get him, pull back through the water and back up on the ice and that would have been a great time to have that boat that we could have got him in the boat immediately and straight to shore,” said Deputy Chief Bachman.

The victim survived but the rescue took longer without the RDC. And when every second counts, saving time could equal saving a life.

“We’re glad to have these two new boats as part of a resource, a piece of equipment that we can use, but again hopefully we don’t have to use them,” he said.

The fire department continued training as it got darker outside, giving them more obstacles. But not only are they now prepared to use the new equipment, they are certified to teach others.