This week in the Park Rapids Enterprise, I have read two stories of people falling through the ice. Two were rescued, and one lost his life.
As a 10-year member of the U.S. Coast Guard who spent his career operating in cold water environments and as a six-year member of the Brooklyn Center Volunteer Fire Department, I cannot help but wonder. Wonder what would have happened if these people were wearing a cold water survival suit. These suits combine a "snowmobile suit" with a life jacket. The Mustang Suit made by Stearns is designed to keep the water out and keep you afloat until help arrives or until you are able to extract yourself from the water. This is a Coast Guard-approved floatation device. IceArmor by Clam sells an Ascent float parka and bibs. Though this is not Coast Guard-approved as a floatation device, it will help you survive a cold water immersion. Either of these survival suits cost in the $500 range.
A person has less than 15 minutes of survival at a water temperature of 32 degrees. By wearing a device designed to keep the water out and allow you to float, the chance of survival increases greatly.
Never venture onto the ice without a floatation system. Carry a whistle and flashlight, and bring ice picks to assist in the extraction from the water. Along with these items, always file a float plan. A float plan is simply letting someone know where you are going, the vehicle and/or house you will be using, and when you will be returning home.
Always treat the frozen lake the same as open water, never assume, and be prepared.