The Warwick Fire Department held an ice rescue drill at Wickham Lake last Saturday, March 2.
Firefighters were instructed on how to properly rescue a victim from a Lake.
Warwick EMS assisted at the scene by providing standby coverage during the drill and for rehabilitation services after the drill was completed for the firefighters.
Mike Contaxis, the department’s 2nd assistant chief, said the water temperature was somewhere between 35 and 41 degrees Fahrenheit if not colder. The ice was as much as six inches thick so firefighters used a chain saw to gain entry.
The ice water protective suits worn by the firefighters who entered the water “are designed to help keep us safe for the times it takes us to safely remove a victim and assist our ice water rescue techs,” Contaxis said.
The assistant chief also provided information on what happens if a person does fall into a lake or other body of water:
Depending on the thickness of skin, hypothermia varies. Obese people can feel the effects later than a lanky person but typically in 41 degree water and below a person may last 10, 15, or even 20 minutes
“When you first go into extremely cold water, there is this weird response called a cold shock response,” Contaxis said. “People start to hyperventilate immediately. For one to three minutes you breathe very fast and deep, uncontrollably. If you go underwater, you could swallow water and die. I can’t tell you how often this occurs but it’s certainly a very real phenomenon. Once that response goes away, you’re fine … for awhile.
“Water conducts heat away from the body much faster than air does, even if the water temperature is 20 degrees higher than the air temperature,” the assistant chief said. “So, the more the body is submerged, the faster its heat will be drained, according to Craig Heller, a Stanford University physiologist). There is no set time for when hypothermia will set in, but generally the colder the water, the faster it happens.”
What to do
So if you find yourself submerged in icy-cold water, what should you do?
“If you have a flotation device, you should get on top of that device and hug yourself to keep as much of your body away from the water as possible,” Contaxis said. “ If you keep your arms and legs in tight, close to the core of the body, you keep your limbs from being exposed to the cooling water. If you do not have a flotation device, get out of the water as fast as you possibly can.”
Frostbite vs. hypothermia
“Frostbite is actually the freezing of tissue (such as skin, muscle and nerve tissue). Suppose you’re on top of Mount Everest and you’re bundled up; your core temperature is 98.6 degrees F. If you take off your gloves, you have exposed that area and it may get frostbite. That’s not hypothermia. Hypothermia is a drop in the core temperature of the body.”
What do you do to treat hypothermia?
“If your body temperature is above 95 degrees F and you’re healthy, your body will warm itself up and you generally don’t need treatment,” Contaxis said.
“If your body is 90 degrees to 95 degrees F (32 to 35 degrees C) and you look okay, we’ll do things like put a warming blanket around you. If your temperature drops much lower, we might give you an IV with warm fluids, insert a breathing tube to supply the lungs with warm air, and insert tubes through the mouth and urethra to put hot saline into the stomach and bladder, respectively. Heating from the inside (by introducing these fluids) helps warm the body’s core tissues faster than heating the body from the outside (by using blankets or putting a person in a warm environment, for instance).
“If a patient comes into the emergency room with a body temperature between 70 and 80 degrees F (21 and 27 degrees C), they often appear dead — or are dead. Cardiac arrest often occurs in this temperature range. Even if it appears someone has passed away, it is still important to warm them (using the techniques described above), because with this degree of hypothermia the heart can slow to a point at which doctors cannot even detect it. Thus, they could make the mistake of presuming someone dead who is actually still alive.
“For these unconscious patients, we also do cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on them and often use a cardiopulmonary bypass (heart–lung) machine that will actually oxygenate the blood and provide a pulse for them.”
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