Stephens City fire, rescue crews practice on ice

Posted: February 11, 2014

The Winchester Star

Stephens City Fire and Rescue Chief Greg Locke rescues member Pete Quinones from an icy pond on Saturday during the company’s Technical Rescue Team’s ice training event.

STEPHENS CITY — The ice was 4 inches thick and the water about 38 degrees, but that didn’t stop the Stephens City Fire and Rescue Technical Rescue Team from getting into a local pond Saturday.

“The best way to describe it would probably be to say, get a bucket of ice water and put your feet in there and see how long you can stand it,” member Timothy Butler said of the experience.

He was one of 13 who were out on the ice as part of a rescue training class. The team wore dry suits to keep their bodies warm, but their hands, feet and faces weren’t as protected.

And the cold was only part of the challenge.

Saturday’s training began with Butler using a chainsaw to cut a hole in the middle of a pond, located on private property in Stephens City.

Instructor Dennis Fortney, battalion chief of the Emergency Services Bureau in Frederick, Md., then oversaw a number of training practices to certify the team in ice rescue.

“The first thing the class participants had to do was self-rescue, where if they fell through the hole, they had to get themselves out without any assistance,” he said.

The importance of that exercise, he said, is to ensure that members don’t add to a victim equation if out on a real rescue.

After everyone practiced self-rescue, they practiced rescuing “victims” using a pole to pull them out and using a bag with a rope that they threw to the members pretending to have gone through the ice.

The final practice involved using a backboard to rescue both an awake and oriented victim and one who was “unconscious.”

The nearly four-hour training — in which outdoor temperatures did not rise above freezing — resulted in the team being certified in ice rescue.

“I think some people excelled more than others and that’s the way it always works — generally, the smaller people do real well with the self-rescue stuff, bigger people struggle with it, but a lot of times the bigger people excel more getting the victim out because they’re stronger,” Fortney said.

Assistant Stephens City Fire Chief John Jones said the team has been trying to train for years, but a lack of ice has prevented it.

The Technical Rescue Team is made up of 17 members from the Stephens City Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company.

Although there aren’t many calls for ice rescue in the region, Jones said the training is invaluable.

“Our potential is so high,” he said. “I’d rather not need it than not have it and need it.”

Fire Chief Greg Locke said the department rescued a dog from a pond in Kernstown about 25 years ago.

“We’ve had kids on ice that we’ve gotten calls for, but most of the time they’ve gotten out before we’ve gotten there,” he added. “But it does happen.”

Butler said the potential for injury in ice rescue is higher than other types of rescue and that the training allows members to be as prepared as possible.

“I think this could probably be a little bit more difficult compared to some of the [other types of rescue],” he said.

Team member Bruce Luttrell was one of two already certified in ice rescue after taking a class in Colorado.

“It was a little colder there than it was here and the ice was thicker,” he said. “Both classes are taught a little bit different, but with the same outcome.”

Luttrell’s nephew, Mitch Luttrell, and fellow member Zach Lingerman agreed that the training was a confidence booster for the team when it came to ice rescues.

“Before, you wouldn’t catch me going out on the ice, but after today, I feel a lot more confident,” Mitch Luttrell said.

Jones said he thought the training was great and complimented the team for their professionalism when it came to being on the ice.

“I think everyone did an excellent job today, and I’m proud of them,” he said.

— Contact Melissa Boughton at