Emergency Crews Train for Icy Disaster

Several motorists were concerned when they saw fire crews and local police along the bank of the Kittanning boat launch area, fearing someone had drowned. East Franklin Fire Chief Mark Feeney explained it was a training exercise for the volunteers.

“We’re doing cold water rescue training that deals with the ice, people falling through the ice,” Feeney explained. “We have our cold water rescue gear on, (we’re) going out and cutting a hole (in the ice) with a chain saw. We are getting our guys, showing them how to wrap a line around people and assist them to get their weight back up on the ice and to safety.”

“We have East Franklin Fire Department, Applewold Fire Department, and Kittanning Hose Company #1 here. Number 1 always has guys around and we call them a lot for assistance with their squad for manpower for a lot of things.”

The number of rescue workers depends on the location of the emergency in the river.

Water rescue volunteers Chris Hibner (rear) and Bob Wolfe were in the icy waters of the Allegheny River last night practicing techniques that could save someone’s life in the event of an emergency. This was their first time to take the training.

“It all depends how far you are out and how many people you got involved. We have six people on the ice, so that means you have to have six people on the tether lines (along shore) for their safety, and then more people getting gear ready, getting chain saws for us, the stokes basket, and stuff like that. We will actually take the stokes basket out and get somebody out of the water in a stokes basket and bring them up and into shore on that.”

Feeney said they have gauged the thickness of the ice about 100 feet from shore.

“We have about eight inches of ice right now – and the most important thing, the ice is sitting on the water. So you have eight inches of ice sitting on the water which gives you extra strength.”

The thickness of ice depends on where in the river channel the current is flowing.

“We really haven’t went out past where we are. Where the current is flowing, the ice is thinner. But we explained to the guys, you don’t know where that current’s at. The ice could be sitting on the bottom on the Applewold side and all the flow (on the Kittanning side), or it can be sitting on the bottom here and have more flow on the Applewold side where the channel is. So you keep sounding it by hitting the ice. We check it by putting little holes in it and put our hand in it to check our thickness.”

Feeney said that he has seen people that survived in icy water for as long as two hours being revived.

“With this cold water, if they went under, it would be pretty quick. But in ice rescues like this, people have been in cold water drownings and recovered fine after two hours. As soon as you get them out of the water, you get them to the ambulance crew and the get them to a hospital trauma center. They will re-warm them slow and bring them back to life. Up to two hours, people have been saved.”

While the training is very tedious, Feeney said it is enjoyable.

“It’s nice to see all the guys out here. It is a fun training session because some of the training sessions are really boring.  As you see, we have a good turnout in the cold weather. A lot of people are interested in this. Out of all the people who are here, there are only five of us that have actually done this. We have two instructors out there with them at all times and we are going to run this whole crowd of people through there. So we will be here for awhile.”

Emergency workers train for a disaster last night on the Allegheny River. They are taught how to check for the thickness of the ice, according to East Franklin Fire Chief Mark Feeney.