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Stay Safe on the Ice during Winter Season; Beware Cold Water Hazards

For Immediate Release: 1/4/2021 5:29 pm

Wintertime can mean snowstorms and lots of shoveling. It also creates opportunities for outdoor fun, with many people taking to the frozen surface of their favorite lake or pond to enjoy ice fishing, snowmobiling, maybe a game of pond hockey, skating, and other fun activities.

The City of Worcester and the Worcester Fire Department remind everyone that the safest place to skate is on clear ice at a skating arena. Skating and playing on frozen lakes and ponds in the City is unsafe because of fluctuating temperatures. Falling through the ice is a real danger, and can result in drowning.

“We always urge people to stay off the ice during winter, unless you are in a rink,” Fire Chief Michael J. Lavoie said. “If you do go on the ice, take safety precautions and always pay attention to the ice around you. Going outside during the winter can be a lot of fun, especially for kids, but being on the ice can go from being fun to extremely dangerous in a matter of seconds.”

If you do venture out onto the ice, it is important to know the risks and practice safe behaviors.

Following these helpful tips could spell the difference between a day of fun and an avoidable tragedy:

• Changes in temperature cause ice to expand and contract, affecting the strength of the ice. It is important to gauge the condition of the ice before gathering on its surface
• Several factors can affect the integrity of ice, including temperature, wind, snow, underground springs, water quality, obstructions and the depth of the water
• Lakes and ponds do not freeze at the same thickness all over
• Stay off the ice if the thickness is 3 inches or less.
• Only stand on clear ice that is at least 4 inches thick
• Never go out onto the ice alone.
• Stay clear of obstructions such as brush, logs, plants and docks, where the surrounding ice can be weakened by heat from the sun
• When fishing, skating or sledding, spread out. Do not put too much weight on one area
• Single, unbroken pressure cracks are probably safe to walk on, but if you are unsure, avoid them
• Be particularly careful when there is moving water – such as on rivers, streams and springs. Moving water can wear ice away from underneath
• Children should never play on the ice without an adult present. Bikes or skateboards should never be used on the ice
• Do not build a fire on the ice
• When in doubt, stay off ice
If you witness someone fall through the ice, call 911 immediately and do not go out onto the ice. Follow the safe rescue sequence: Reach, Throw, and Go:
• Extend a branch, pole or ladder to reach the victim
• Throw a buoyant object, such as a life ring or float tied to a rope
• Go get help

Prolonged exposure to cold water can prove life threatening. Hypothermia is a potential risk, and can lead to unconsciousness and death. Safety experts estimate that half of all drowning victims die from the effects of cold water, not water-filled lungs.

If you are going to be on the ice or water during winter, dress properly. Wool insulates the body better from the effects of hypothermia than man-made materials. Wear a personal floatation device (PTF) when you are on the ice or water. Waterlogged clothing makes it difficult to keep your head above water.

If the ice starts to crack:

• Stop, stay calm, lie down, roll away from the crack and crawl on your belly back to the shore
If you fall into cold water, follow these tips:
• Get into HELP (Heat Escape Lessening Position) by bringing your knees to your chest, holding your arms to your sides and clasping your hands. Cover you head, if possible, to guard against heat loss.
• Don’t try to swim unless a boat, floating object or the shore is close by. Swimming causes warm blood to circulate to your arms and legs, where it cools off quickly and reduces survival time by as much as 35-50 percent
• If you are in the water with other people, huddle tightly together with your arms around each other to preserve body heat.

For more information on ice and cold water safety, visit www.mass.gov.

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