Despite all the precautions that anglers take, a few go through the ice
each year and all ice anglers should know something about rescue
techniques and first aid for hypothermia.
Drowning is one immediate danger, But usually the victims are able to keep
their heads above water by clinging to the edge of the broken ice or to
floating gear. Most fatalities are caused by hypothermia, a rapid, drastic
lowering of body temperature which causes loss of the use of limbs, disorientation,
unconsciousness and, finally, heart failure.
Victims have only a few minutes to extract themselves from the water before
their hands become too stiff to use. use. Then they must depend on rescue
by others. Survival time in the water varies from about 20 minutes to as
much as 90 minutes. If the victim is large and wearing a lot of clothing,
and if he remains still, keeps his head and neck out of the water and draws
his knees and arms into his chest, he will minimize heat loss and lengthen
survival time. A thin person, or one who struggles, will succumb to hypothermia
Some anglers carry spikes in easy-to-reach pockets or on strings attached
to the sleeves of their coats. Dug into the slick, wet ice at the edge
of a hole, they can help a victim crawl out of the water. In an emergency
you can also get a grip on the ice with a pocket knife, a gaff or the ice
cleats from your boots. Once out of the water, crawl or roll back along
your path to safe ice.
If you see someone go through the ice, be extremely careful attempting a
rescue. You don't want to end up in the water, too. Reach for the victim with
your ice auger, fishing poles or anything of adequate length that lets you
remain out of danger. Remove your belt or other clothing and fashion a rope to
reach the victim. If more people are available to help, form a human chain
to reach the person in trouble.
When the victim is removed from the water, it is imperative that first
aid begin as soon as possible. Until the victim is removed from the cold
environment, body temperature will continue to drop as the vital organs
cool, adjusting to the colder surrounding tissue.
Generally, in mild cases of hypothermia first aid procedures consist of shelter,
dry clothing and, only if victim is conscious and alert, hot liquids. Under
no circumstances should the victim be given alcoholic beverages which
diminish shivering, thus reducing heat production. Alcohol also causes dilation
of surface blood vessels, causing more heat loss.
Do not rub the victim's skin. A condition called after-drop is at least a
potential problem in all cases of hypothermia. After-drop is the continued
decline of core body temperature even after rescue as the relatively warm
core continues to lose heat to the cold outer body tissue.
The risk of after-drop is increased by premature exercise or warming of the
extremities. The physiological result of a sudden influx of cold blood may
cause the core temperature to drop to a level that could be fatal, even after a
successful rescue. Insulate the victim's trunk, head and neck from additional
heat loss and transport them to a medical facility as soon as possible.
Fortunately, rescue and first aid are very seldom necessary. However, since
the sport is constantly attracting newcomers and since even veterans are subject to
occasional human error, it's best that anglers be prepared for any unexpected
situation and learn emergency measures even though they may never have to apply them.