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Posted By Near Miss Team/ Wednesday, February 13, 2019 / Print


Ice rescues can be a high-risk, low-frequency occurrence in many regions of the country where freezing temperatures are common. Victims can quickly become hypothermic, and drowning is always possible. It is extremely important to have adequate training and proper equipment to minimize the risks.


A dog 200 feet out on the ice had broken through and was swimming and pawing, trying to get out of the water and back onto the ice. An off-duty firefighter was driving by and scanning the call. He responded to the shore and took the initiative to go after the dog without any safety gear or back-up personnel in place. While making his way out, he fell through the ice about 15 feet from shore. Luckily, the water was shallow, and he retreated back to shore and waited for on-duty personnel to make the rescue.

View the report: Animal Rescue Turns Hazardous


In this report, an animal rescue quickly turned into an incident in which the unprepared, improperly equipped off-duty firefighter could have become another victim. Fortunately, he was able to get himself out of the water before that occurred. In cases like this, the well-intentioned bystander becomes another victim, complicating the rescue operation.


  1. What is your agency’s response on ice-rescue calls with potential victims in the water? How many rescuers initially arrive on scene?
  2. What actions can you take without venturing out onto the ice if you are alone on scene, awaiting the arrival of additional resources?
  3. How many personnel does it take to safely attempt an ice rescue? What equipment do you need to bring to the scene?
  4. What are your department’s policies and procedures on these types of calls?


An ice rescue can be a hazardous operation where time is of the essence. In many cases, a person or animal falls through the ice, then bystanders try to help and become victims themselves. These are incidents we must prepare for so that we can respond quickly, efficiently and safely.

There are many ways to perform ice rescues. Some departments use a rescuer in a wetsuit or dry suit tethered to a rope; the rescuer makes contact with the victim, secures them, then is pulled back to shore with the victim. Others use specialized equipment, such as ice rescue sleds, inflatable boats or special rescue poles. Others improvise with ladders, throw devices or various flotation devices. The number of personnel you can get on scene quickly is a factor when planning your procedures. Whatever method your agency uses in an ice rescue, make sure everyone knows their roles.

When your department selects the equipment they will use, it is important to consider that victims may be unable to assist in the rescue. When possible, instruct victims to place their arms on the ice shelf in front of them. This way, if they become incapacitated their arms may stick to the ice, preventing them from sinking underwater.

Anyone near the water must wear flotation devices; firefighter turnouts should never be worn in proximity to the water. Rescuers entering the water or walking on the ice must wear dry suits or the proper wetsuit and have a lifeline, so personnel on shore can pull them back. Equipment must be maintained in a state of readiness and all personnel must complete training so they can remain proficient.

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