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Multiple EMS, fire, and police agencies meet for joint ice rescue drill in New Jersey

UPPER FREEHOLD, NJ - Multiple EMS, fire, and police agencies from around Monmouth County descended on Lake Assunpink to train for saving victims who have fallen through the ice.

Members of the Millstone Fire Department, Hope Fire Department, Allentown First Aid, Keyport First Aid, Atlantic Highlands First Aid and Safety Squad, and New Jersey Division of Fish And Wildlife Conservation Officers braved bone chilling temperatures on the lake to spend Jan 25 training for disasters.

“We’re taking the pro-active approach, rather than reacting,” said drill leader Shannon Martiak, a member of the AHFAS and a Conservation Officer with the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife.

A year ago, a father and son died on Lake Assunpink when they fell through the ice while fishing. Martiak, organized the drill in an effort to get area EMS, fire, and police organizations to be prepared in those situations. He gathered local squads, and invited Atlantic Highlands, which has several members trained as ice rescue technicians, and Keyport First Aid, which frequently trains for ice rescues.

After a classroom session on the effects of cold exposure on victims, discussing rescue techniques and equipment, the group moved out onto the frozen lake.

There, Martiak, along with AHFAS members Jerry Pandolfo and Bill Mount guided the 50 rescuers present in effecting the rescue of a victim who had fallen through the ice.

Rescuers wore ice rescue suits and were attached to a safety rope before climbing onto the ice. With a rescue tool in hand, they walked carefully to the victim. Then, while lying on their stomachs, the rescuers attached rescue rings to the victims pulled them to safety.

“The drill provided each of us with a chance to use the invaluable skills we learned in the classroom on the ice, in a controlled setting,” said Richard Huff, chief of the AHFAS. "Interacting with other agencies helps all of us, and ultimately, helps the public we serve."

Ice on the lake was more then seven inches thick.

The drill came just a day after firefighters in East Brunswick, using similar techniques, rescued a dog on ice atop the Raritan River at Donaldson Park.

“The goal was to get together agencies that most likely respond to an emergency in that area,” said Martiak. “Now we know each other, what equipment each agency has and what skills are necessary to operate together.”

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