Ice in and around Stratford not suitable for recreation

Ice in and around Stratford not suitable for recreation
By Galen Simmons
Stratford Beacond Herald
Link to article: Ice in and around Stratford not suitable for recreation

Whoever left their hockey net in the middle of the Avon River in downtown Stratford probably won’t be retrieving it any time soon.

With temperatures fluctuating wildly over the last month – a trend that is expected to continue this weekend with temperatures crawling back above the freezing point -- the Stratford Fire Department is warning residents to stay off the ice.

“There really is no way to know it’s safe at this point since the temperatures have been fluctuating and they are calling for rain this weekend,” said fire chief John Paradis.

“We had a big freeze, we had a snowfall, and then it rained again and the temperatures went up to plus six and we had another big thaw. With all that fluctuation in temperature, everybody should just assume the ice downtown in Stratford is not safe… Right now it would be better if everyone stayed off the ice.”

Though the ice at the beginning of this year was what is known as black ice – the strongest type of ice without any air bubbles or layers of snow and slush – since then the freeze/thaw cycle and precipitation that has hit the area over the past few weeks have severely weakened the integrity of the ice.

“Although it’s not deep, there’s always that possibility of getting underneath that hole with that very short current… If your head goes under the ice and you can’t find that hole again, you’re in trouble,” Paradis said.

Since the City of Stratford does not have the resources to monitor ice thickness, and a city-operated ice rink has not been established on the Avon River for several years, anyone who skates on Lake Victoria and the Avon River is doing so at their own risk.

With that in mind, an ice surface can usually be considered safe after a sustained three to four week period of negative 10 degree Celsius or below temperatures. In this year’s case however, because of the rapid freeze/thaw cycle, the city and the fire department can’t say for sure whether the Avon River will be safe again for public use before the final spring thaw.

“We had that recent thaw and that has permitted a lot of air to come up through and weaken the ice, then we had snow come down, and then more ice, more cold, and then we have a warming trend coming this weekend,” deputy fire chief Neil Anderson said. “Right now it’s very difficult to tell what’s going to happen.

“And if you start seeing some ice ridges coming up through the ice, you want to stay away from them, because you never know how new they are, how weak the ice is, and the problem with an ice ridge is, in between it’s usually melted – it’s open water.”

According to Environment Canada, for a person to safely walk across a frozen body of water there must be at least two inches of solid ice. For those who like to ride ATVs or snowmobiles in the winter, there must be four inches of ice, and for two or three people with an ice fishing hut, there needs to be at least six inches of solid ice. A foot or more is required for any road vehicle.

“And as the chief mentioned, any current makes any ice surface so unpredictable,” Anderson added. “A warming trend with a current reduces the thickness of the ice so much quicker than a flat, non-current body of water.”

At this point in the winter though, city officials are also warning people to stay off stagnant bodies of water. Though the city prohibits the use of storm water drainage ponds as ice rinks in the winter as a general rule, the Stratford Fire Department is doubling down on that message now, considering many of Stratford’s drainage ponds are in somewhat remote locations, and if someone is alone when they fall through the ice, they may not be found any time soon.

So for those residents who want to skate this winter, it might be best to stick to the indoor arenas and backyard skating rinks.

On Thin Ice

Since the ice in Stratford is not monitored, and even when ice thickness is monitored there is no guarantee there won’t be any weak spots, Paradis said there are some loose rules to follow should someone find themselves on thin or cracking ice.

“If you find yourself on cracking ice, just stop and back up the way you came. So backtrack yourself off. I have seen people who have gone flat on the ice, trying to spread themselves out as wide as possible to disperse their weight, and then try and crawl their way back to the shore,” Paradis said. “Is there a right or wrong way to do it? I’d probably say no, but if you start hearing the cracking, get back off, and let anyone else in the area know the ice is cracking -- and for them not to go on it as well.”

If someone does go through the ice and they’re alone, they should start yelling as loud as they can to get someone’s attention onshore. Anyone onshore that notices someone who has fallen through the ice should immediately dial 911 – keeping an eye on the spot where the person fell through -- so the fire department can deploy its ice water rescue team. By no means should anyone walk out onto the ice to attempt a rescue themselves.

“We have all the rescue training, we have all the equipment and capabilities to do a very, very swift rescue to get that person back to safety,” Paradis said.

This weekend during Stratford’s Winterfest – on Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m. – the Stratford Fire Department’s ice water rescue team will be running demonstrations on Lake Victoria to give residents an idea of what it takes to save someone from the frigid water. According to Paradis, the ice water rescue team can have someone who has fallen through the ice out of the water in as little as eight minutes from the time a call comes into dispatch.

“Our heavy rescue truck – the one that looks like a big shipping container on wheels – that’s the truck that has our ice rescue suits, all our ropes, our carabiners, our ice water rescue boat. We have a boat that slides across the ice that keeps our guys safe, but helps to bring the person back in,” Paradis explained. “We will deploy that truck immediately down to the spot.

“While the guys are getting the ropes hooked up, two guys are in the back getting the suits on, and another group of guys are inflating the boat, and we’re gone. They just run across the ice by hanging onto the boat – they could be falling through the ice, but they’ve got the boat – and they get out there as quick as they can. The first person grabs onto the casualty… and the second guy will jump in the boat, reach through the hole in the front of the boat, lean back and bring them both through the hole in the front.”

Once all three people are in the boat, the firefighters who are still onshore will pull it in using a rope attached to the back of the watercraft. The all clear signal will only be given once everyone is back onshore. Throughout the rescue, paramedics would be waiting on the sidelines to provide treatment and transportation to the hospital.

“The guys are constantly, constantly training to get faster,” Paradis said.

In the event that someone is swept under the ice by a current, the Stratford Fire Department has to rely on an OPP or another dive team from out of town – changing the focus of their response from rescue to body recovery.

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