The Block Island Times

Safety first on the ice

What to do in an emergency
By Kari Curtis | Feb 12, 2014
Photo by: Kari Curtis Fire Chief Tristan Payne shows scout Mac Brown how deploy a rescue sled, in the event someone should fall through ice on one of the island’s ponds.

Back in September of 2012, Bernadette McNerney and Eileen and Steve Miller re-kindled Block Island Boy Scout Troop 30. A small group of five, in fifth through eighth grades, the troop has been meeting weekly during the school year at Harbor Church. On occasion, individuals in the community volunteer their time and knowledge in a particular field to the group.

On Tuesday, Feb. 4., Troop 30 gathered after school at the Firebarn. Fire Chief Tristan Payne had started setting up some equipment for a demonstration on ice safety. With 365 ponds on the island, it is not a bad idea to know some safety precautions when it comes to ice. Members of Troop 30 can also use this information and training to help earn their Search & Rescue Merit Badge.

The Chief introduced the Scouts to the key accessories used by the B.I. Fire and Rescue Departments in the event of an ice emergency. First, a survival suit, a waterproof and water-tight red one-piece body suit, worn by the rescuer. Next, a rescue sled — a pontoon-like, lightweight flotation sled that is easily pushed out onto the ice.

With the help of one of the scouts, Payne demonstrated how the rescue sled and the survival suit are used in the event someone — or something — has fallen through the ice. In the past, deer have been saved using the rescue sled.

“Don’t assume that the ice is safe just because you see other people on the ice,” Payne warned, “and never go on the ice alone.”

He then went through the steps to take in the event of an emergency.

“Call 911 right away” instructed Payne. He explained how the 911 system works on the island; how the call is directed from the mainland right to dispatch in the New Shoreham Police station.

“If you are going ice skating, pick a pond that is shallow — but like I said, we really do not advocate people going out on the ice,” Payne said.

With that said, Payne discussed with the scouts what they should have on hand, or use, in the event of an ice emergency: rope, clothes tied together, a long branch or stick, ice picks and a cell phone. Payne showed the boys how to make a homemade ice pick by using a half-inch dowel cut into four-inch segments, a nail drilled into one end with the head of the nail cut off, creating a sharp pick-like end.

“Keep these in your pockets if you are going out on the ice, they could help you gain some traction if you fall in,” reminded Payne.

The Scouts each made their own ice picks with the materials Payne provided. The ice safety session wrapped up with a simulated ice rescue, creating a human chain to pull the “victim” out of the “pond.” All five Scouts joined in the chain on the floor of the Firebarn garage, pulling their fellow scout to safety.

These Boy Scouts would like to become Eagle Scouts. Island resident and Eagle Scout John Breunig takes turns running the weekly meetings with Bernadette McNerney and the Millers as Senior Patrol Leader, and has assisted the scouts with “Board of Reviews” and skill learning so they can advance in rank. Eagle Scout Bruce Montgomery and former Scouts George Henault and Tom Mitchell have attended meetings to share their scouting experiences.

So far the scouts have earned Merit Badges in First Aid, Emergency Preparedness, Rock Climbing, Kayaking, Medicine, Fingerprinting, Swimming, Riflery, Wilderness Survival and Oceanography. For the last two summers, they have gone as a troop for a week to Camp Yawgoog (one of the oldest Boy Scout camps in the country) in Hope Valley, R.I. These scouts have done service work on the island, including Greenway Trail maintenance, volunteer work for home-owners and beach clean-up work. They hold a few fundraisers each year to help with costs, like the annual car wash each May in Finn’s parking lot. This weekend, they are going winter camping in one of the cabins at Camp Yawgoog for two nights where they will be hiking trails, preparing meals and keeping warm with a woodstove.

“The skills I am learning here I can use in my everyday life,” said Scout Mac Brown. “It’s really a lot of fun.”

The Troop always welcomes new people to come to their weekly meetings, always hoping for more kids to join the Boy Scouts.

How do you join?

“Just get down to the Rec. Center at the Harbor Church on Wednesdays at 6 p.m.” encourages Scout Mac Brown. Scout Andre Miller chimed in, “I really enjoy the time spent with my friends here. I like the skills I’ve learned, and how we try to live the Boy Scout Oath and Law by helping people out, being trustworthy, being a good person and helping within our community.”

Weekly meetings are held on Wednesdays at Harbor Church. Contact Eileen or Steve Miller at 466-9725 for more information. All are welcome.

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