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Jan 28, 2016 3:54 PM

Danger - Thin Ice: Mild winter means more lake rescues for NH first responders

The milder than usual start to winter has delayed the freezing of New Hampshire lakes, adding to the workload of many first responders.

Most ice fishers, snowmobilers or other people don't know if the ice is safe until they test it out themselves, which is something that no first responder would recommend.

Lake Winnipesaukee has seen its fair share of ice rescues as one of the deadliest places in New Hampshire this time of year,

Imagine being out on the lake and thinking the ice below you is frozen solid and just then falling through. Your body would go into shock, your heartbeat would slow and the feel of the cold water would consume you.

“Keep yelling as much as you can. Keep treading water and keep pushing yourself up through the ice. Keep breaking through and keep pushing further,” advises Kevin Pierce of Laconia Fire and EMS.

NH1’s Jenna Abate was able to play the role of a victim, covered head to toe in dive gear as the Fire and EMS crew in Laconia demonstrated how they would rescue someone who fell through the ice. But not all of their rescues go according to plan.

Pierce and his partner Beaudoin saved someone from the lake this time last year. Terry Threlfall and his friend Andrew Grant were riding snowmobiles on snow-covered ice on Lake Winnisquam when they found a patch of black ice and attempted to turn around. Just then, both fell through, but it was Threlfall who was able to escape and get help.

"No we did not expect to get to him in time, we tried but we did not expect it at all. It seems like the closer we were getting to him, he sounded farther away," said Pierce.

Threlfall ran, desperate to get help for his friend.

“In bursts this young man, soaking wet, (saying) ‘help me, help me, help me’,” said Wendy Oellers-Fulmer, who was at her father's house for dinner in Laconia. But once she saw Threlfall at her home, she called for help. All the while Grant sat in the dark water, struggling to keep warm, waiting for help.

“The hardest part was not being able to see where we’re going and couldn’t hear where the voices were coming from, and it seemed as we got closer, the voices faded because the patient was going under,” said Pierce.

“He'd holler back and say that he was still up OK and we told him we were on our way and to hold on. It was more a question of how much time does he have left,” said Beaudoin.

Laconia rescued 17 people from the lake last year and sees at least half of their rescues in the winter season.

This year's unstable conditions haven't kept emergency crews as busy, but it has changed the location of events such as the pond hockey classic.

Officials say it’s just not safe and in years past not only people but cars have gone through unstable ice.

If you do venture out and fall through the ice:

  1. Put your arms on the ice and try to push yourself out of the water.
  2. Call out for help, someone may hear you and be able to call 9-1-1.
  3. Keep moving. Try to keep the blood pumping through your body.

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