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Originally published Saturday, January 18, 2014 at 6:04 AM

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Alaskans shown what to do if they fall through ice

In frozen climes, simple tips can make difference between life and death.

Juneau Empire

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JUNEAU, Alaska — Nearly 150 Juneauites trekked to the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center recently for a lesson in surviving falling into icy waters.

“It’s essential to saving lives (to know how to react when someone falls through),” said Laurie Craig, the lead naturalist at the visitor center. “People go through all the time. People have gone through almost every weekend during the winters.”

At the event, professionals gave a presentation on tips for reacting both when an individual falls through the ice, and when someone nearby falls in.

“It’s reasonably important to learn about ice safety living in Juneau,” said Tim Lamkin, who brought his 6-year-old son to the event. “My biggest take away was learning to behave like a seal kicking both legs together to get out.”

The first thing people should do when someone falls in is call emergency personnel. After that is done, efforts to reach the person with a branch or long object should ensue, according to the presentation.

Unsuccessful efforts to reach the victim should be followed by throwing something to help the person get as much of their body out of the water as possible, said Joel Curtis, a volunteer with the Capital City Fire and Rescue special teams.

“The more you can get yourself out of the water, the better off you are,” Curtis said. “Everything is a heat sink, so if just your legs are in the water that’s going to make a big difference.”

Having something to float on that gets a large portion of the victim’s body out of the water — such as a spare tire — could “easily” afford that person an extra 10 minutes for first responders to arrive, and it could be the difference between life and death, Curtis added.

Curtis was one of three specialists on hand for the main event — three examples of surviving a fall through the ice.

In the first scenario, the victim demonstrated how to use tools to scrape his way out of the icy hole. Once clear of the hole’s edge, he rolled away to prevent the ice from breaking again.

In the second scenario, the victim was able to help rescue officials, but lacked the ability and tools to get out on his own. The rescue official got in the water with the victim and tied a rope around him, and then a second official on the shore helped pull him out.

The last example was when the victim was unable to help rescue officials in any way.

“If you’re next to someone who falls through, knowing what to do could mean saving their life,” Craig said. “(The victim) has to remember to breathe, stay still and keep as much of their body out of the water as possible.”

Though she is familiar with the lake, Craig said she never goes out on the ice due to inconsistency in thickness and stability.

“People get a false sense of security because of how think they hear the ice is,” Craig said. “There is a current under the ice that makes it very dangerous. It could be 12 inches thick somewhere and then be half-an-inch thick three feet away.”

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