Fearless fire department braves icy water

A group of volunteer fire fighters jumped into frigid Stuart Lake waters this weekend all in the name of rescue.

Matt Kilback- Raven Rescue instructor

Matt Kilback- Raven Rescue instructor

A group of volunteer fire fighters jumped into frigid Stuart Lake waters this weekend all in the name of rescue.

An ice-training refresher course has now brought 12 members of the Fort St. James Fire Department up to speed with the most current skills on how to rescue someone that’s fallen in.

Last year volunteers participated in ice rescue training and were fully certified with the ice rescue technician certificate which is good for three years. This year was a refresher course, Michael Navratil said, fire chief.

“This will help us maintain our skills and be much better prepared to help people while staying safe ourselves. Historically [someone falls in] consistently every winter so with this training if someone falls through the ice we will have the most up-to-date skills to rescue them safely,” Mr. Navratil said.

The training is done by Raven Rescue, the largest training provider in Canada. They provide training for technical rope rescue, confined space rescue, ice rescue, tower rescue and a handful of others.

Instructor Matt Kilback, certified for swift water and ice rescue, showed participants how to use anchors and how to properly scout for hazards. Keeping it simple is one of his main priorities and when it comes to ice rescue, you want it simple, he said.

“The most important thing is recognizing the hazards,” Mr. Kilback said. “On Stuart Lake here, this is a controlled environment, but once you are in an area with moving water there are so many more things that can go wrong and so many more variables thrown into it.”

By securing an anchor in the ice far enough away from the edge, it allows the rescuer to attach a rope and potentially save someone solely by themselves.

“But you should always have at least three people, you should never have to resort to [a one person rescue],” Mr. Navratil said.

The ice-rescue suits each participant wore has thermal protection with flotation built in. It’s all one piece and although it may take a shorter amount to time to put on, can be quite uncomfortable, Mr. Kilback said.

“It’s not a cold water suit to float around in all the time but to rescue someone it will keep the person warm and floating,” Mr. Kilback said.

A dry suit is an alternative but comes in many pieces so takes longer to put on. The boots and gloves are separate but if put on correctly will also be water proof with thermal protection.

The cost of the training was covered by the District of Fort St. James in conjunction with the Regional District of Bulkley Nechako.


Residents are also reminded the fire department is currently hosting a recruitment drive which ends March 6. Contact the hall for further information at 250-996-8670.