Rescue on Monona Bay

The Lake Rescue Team of the Madison Fire Department uses a sled to distribute the rescuer's weight while traveling onto ice to pull someone from frigid waters.

Q: How are ice rescues conducted?

A: Madison Fire Department personnel take many precautions when they are going out onto the ice to rescue someone who may have broken through the ice and fallen into the freezing waters of Lakes Mendota, Monona and Wingra, Lt. Cory Reno said.

When a person falls through surface ice on one of Madison’s bodies of water, the Lake Rescue Team goes out onto the ice with specialized gear to ensure their own safety while rescuing someone else, Reno said. That gear includes a sled that spreads out a person’s weight as they travel on the ice — it will also float in the water if necessary — and survival suits that help team members float and provide thermal protection if they need to go into the water, he said.

“We also have an airboat that we use in cooperation with the Dane County Sheriff’s Office,” Reno said. “This piece of equipment can navigate over ice or open water and can arrive quickly to an incident that is out of reach of shore-based rescues.”

Airboat  on Lake Monona

The Madison Fire Department uses a Dane County Sheriff's Office airboat, which can travel on ice and water, to reach people who fell through ice far from the shore.

An ambulance will also arrive on the shore while the rescue team is pulling a person from the water. While the team and the person are being pulled into shore on the sled, the rescue team will provide basic life support, Reno said.

Only one person has needed to be rescued from Madison’s waters so far this season, Fire Department spokeswoman Cynthia Schuster said. Last winter, 10 people were rescued.

Lake rescue divers need many diving certifications, Reno said, and surface rescue technicians need to be trained on the use of the survival suits, sled and airboat. Training is typically done on thin ice to simulate rescuing victims who have fallen through the ice but are still at the water’s surface.

— Shelley K. Mesch

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Shelley K. Mesch is a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal. She earned a degree in journalism from DePaul University.

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