Warming temps make ice unsafe

Posted 3/5/10

Pat and Dave Gusky were enjoying their morning coffee on March 1 when they looked out their window on West Pond View Drive. They saw what they …

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Warming temps make ice unsafe


Pat and Dave Gusky were enjoying their morning coffee on March 1 when they looked out their window on West Pond View Drive. They saw what they thought was a coyote chasing geese on a partially frozen pond.

The coyote turned out to be a neighbor’s dog, which, preoccupied by the birds, fell into the frigid water.

“My husband said, ‘That dog’s going to go in. He’s not smart enough,” Pat Gusky said. “The geese were too much of a lure.”

The Guskys called 911, as did the dog’s owner, who was close by. Littleton Fire Rescue, wearing thermal, buoyant suits, pulled the dog to safety.

“He was clinging to the ice shelf when they arrived,” said Littleton Fire Rescue Operations Division Chief Roland Seno. “It was a happy ending.”

Rescuing people and pets from icy water is a scene that plays out more than a dozen times a year for the department. On Feb. 13, crews pulled a man and his dog from the Redstone Park pond. The man had tried to rescue his dog and fell through the thin ice.

With spring’s impending arrival, warm temperatures and sunny skies will melt pond ice rapidly, making it even more unsafe for humans and their pets.

“We tend to see a little more of it this time of year when temperatures start to warm up a little bit,” Seno said. “The ice is not as sturdy as it was back in December. We will see an increase after the first of the year any time it’s warming up.”

According to Seno, the fire department performs about 15 rescues a year of people or animals who fall through thin ice. Many of those happen at Chatfield Reservior, he said, because people tend to walk their dogs off-leash.

The three ponds in the West Pond View Drive development are especially dangerous because they have aerators that keep the water flowing and the fish alive. That also means the ponds don’t freeze solid and have open water in the middle.

Although it may be instinctive to try to rescue your dog or another person from the water, fire department officials say it’s the wrong approach.

“The typical human response is that it’s a loved one and you feel the need to get out there and pull them out of the water,” said Tim Woodward, dive team coordinator for Littleton Fire Rescue. “But it exposes them to the possibility of falling in and it’s difficult to get out. People aren’t prepared for that.”

Woodward said the department responds immediately to a call of someone falling through the ice — even if that someone is a dog.

“Don’t go in after the dog,” Seno said. “Call 911 and we’ll come get your dog. We have the equipment to get out there and get him.”

While the entire roughly 140-member department is trained in surface ice rescues, Woodward is one of just 24 members who are certified as underwater rescue divers. Woodward and his team often visit local elementary schools as part of a water safety education program. He hopes youngsters will relate his teachings to their parents.

“If you’re going to go on the ice, be aware of the conditions and go with a friend,” Woodward said. “Keep animals on a leash and if your pets do go in the water, call 911. Don’t do the rescue yourself.”


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