GLACE BAY — Record cold and snowy conditions have resulted in thick layers of ice on many lakes and rivers around Cape Breton this winter.
That's good news for outdoor skating and ice fishing enthusiasts, but as temperatures slowly begin to rise and ice starts to melt, the likelihood of someone falling through increases.
Preparing for happy endings to those unfortunate accidents was the objective of a training exercise performed on the Beacon Street Dam Saturday afternoon.
The training saw fire fighters with the Glace Bay and Dominion departments put their ice rescue training and equipment to the test during a simulated rescue exercise.
"We see more people on the ice now, but as the weather becomes warmer I don't know what is going to take place," said Jim Taylor, chief of the Glace Bay Volunteer Fire Department. "We figure we should practise our skills and be prepared."
Though the fire department practises its rescue skills several times a year, its hard to predict when real life situations will happen, he said.
"It sort of happens in a funny way. Sometimes we use them two or three times in a year and then years go by without even using them. We keep practising so that everybody is up on their skills."
On Saturday firefighters began the exercise by cutting a large triangle in the thick ice at the dam. Firefighters wearing specialized clothing to keep them warm and dry then took turns in the hole while their comrades tried to rescue them.
"Basically, two rescuers go out on tethered lines with two backup rescuers. We also have a sled we put into the water to get the person on top in case they are losing feeling or getting hypothermia."
Ice rescue rings, devices that resemble buoys, were also used on Saturday.
"This training is very important because there is a lot of water and ice around our area," said Dave Little, a volunteer with the 32-member Dominion Fire Department.
"It's been a few years since we've had to use the training, but it's good to keep all the members up to speed."
Saturday's exercise was performed under cloudy skies with some rain and then snow falling. Though conditions were close to optimal, Taylor said they are ready to put their skills to use no matter what the weather.
"The rescuers are always on tethered lines and are well protected," he said. "I guess the big thing is trying to read the ice and determine if it is safe or unsafe and which area and direction to travel."