Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, April 9, 2001

Winsted firefighters make cold water rescue

By Patrice Waldron

Members of the Winsted Volunteer Fire Department responded to an emergency call April 1, when a man was seen in a boat on the thin ice of Winsted Lake.

The rescue took place in the vicinity of Lake Avenue East, when a dog that had apparently been attracted to the geese and open water, and wandered out onto the north end of the lake.

The three firefighters who went in the water/ice were able to get close enough to the man, Stan Paschke of Winsted, toss him a rope, and pull his boat to shore. The dog, which had been in the boat when the fire department arrived, walked to shore on its own.

The firefighters responded in the rescue vehicle, with Gary Rathmanner, Brad Bush, and Jamie Stotko donning cold water rescue suits, commonly called 'gumby suits,' readying themselves for the frigid water.

The gumby suits are insulated, full-body suits, with attached gloves, boots, and a nearly full-face covering. The suits keep the body warm, protected, and also have built-in floatation, so the person wearing the suit cannot sink.

The ice on the north end is thinner than in other areas of the lake because of the two aerators, which are in place to reduce winter fishkill.

On the opposite end of the lake, people were still ice fishing, but in the area of the rescue, the ice was dangerously thin.

If the body is exposed for more than a few minutes in ice cold water, hypothermia may set in.

Hypothermia is a condition where the core body temperature goes below 35 degrees Celsius, or 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Signs of hypothermia go from clumsiness and confusion, progressing to non-stop shivering, loss of consciousness, a slow pulse, and eventual cardiac arrest.

Another danger to falling through the ice is the difficulty in pulling oneself out. The ice, in this case, was so thin that it wouldn't even support the weight of the men making the rescue. If one tried to pull oneself out of the water, and onto the ice, the ice would just keep breaking, essentially trapping one in the water.

Just as important are the firefighters on shore who assist those in the water. Each person in the gumby suit has a safety line connected to firefighters on shore, ensuring that those making the rescue are kept safe.

Other firefighters who responded prepared the department's newly refinished rescue boat, in case it was needed to tow the other boat in.

A boat may also be used to carry equipment which may be needed during the rescue.

The rescue boat, which had been dropped off near the DairiConcepts building, (the traditional boat launch site for an emergency on that end of the lake) was picked up and everyone headed back to the fire station.

There are also homeowners on Winsted Lake, who have boats moored, and who have consented to allowing the fire department personnel to use their watercraft in an emergency.

The Winsted Fire Department, with four gumby suits, has more cold weather suits than most other McLeod County fire departments, explained firefighter Brad Millerbernd.

Although the situation has not presented itself, Winsted firefighters could be called upon to offer their assistance during a cold water rescue in another city.

The fire department members train for many different types of emergencies. All interested firefighters train in the gumby suits to make sure personnel are ready when the need arises.

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