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Controversial Ice Rescue in Illinois

It's Not "Little Alameda on the Prairie"

CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS, FIREFIGHTERS were called out on New Year's day for an ice-water rescue at a shopping mall's retention pond.  A 20-yr.-old man was running from the police when he dashed onto the icy surface of the pond and after a short dash, fell thought the ice.  The outside temperature at that time was about 20 degrees.  Fortunately the water was only about 5 ft. deep and his head was above water.

The police, who weren't far behind him, arrived right away and the duty sergeant, hearing the ice starting to crack, called for the FD before the man went into the water.  The News-Gazette explains the FD procedure in this situation:

Champaign Deputy Fire Chief Eric Mitchell said his department got the call at 3:53 p.m. that there was a man in the water. The first firefighters arrived at 3:58 p.m. A total of 22 fire personnel and six vehicles turned out, he said. "The way we're trained, you have several different positions that have to be filled to do water rescue safely," Mitchell said. "You have a leader and a victim observer (whose) job is to make contact visually with the victim and try to talk to him."

(Police Deputy Chief) Gallo said before firefighters arrived, the officers were talking to him, trying to get him to get his body on the ice. An officer went in Menards to get rope, and by the time he emerged, firefighters were there.

Mitchell said Mr. Brown was still conscious. "They could hear him yelling but couldn't understand much what he was saying," he said.

In addition to the team leader and the victim observer, there are others who provide shore support. "They help the rescuers into dry suits. Everybody is tethered to a rope on the shore," Mitchell said, adding there is at least one shore-support person for each person in the water.

And for every two rescuers sent out, there are two more suited up standing by in case something happens to the first one out, Mitchell explained.

Because Mr. Brown went on the ice as he was avoiding contact with police, Atteberry also donned a dry suit. "We had a police officer also suit up and go out there with our officers," Mitchell said. "The police wanted to be there. They were there on the call. We gave him a crash course and got him out on the ice," he explained, adding the first firefighter was in a dry suit at 3:59 p.m.

As the firefighters were suiting up and getting tethered, other team members threw out a rescue disc — "a Frisbee with a rope on it" — in hopes that Mr. Brown would grab on. He did not. As that was being tried, the rescue raft was being inflated, something that can't be done too fast or the raft will pop like a balloon.

As the firefighters were walking the rescue raft out to the victim, he lost his footing and fell into a hole about 12 to 16 ft. deep.  A diving team had just arrived from a mutual-aid department and the immediate rescue efforts were started.  It took neary an hour to located the body.

The controversy over the incident began when the citizens who knew nothing about rescue procedures first began yelling at the police and firefighters to run out there and grab the guy.  Also, witnesses started spreading the rumor that the firefighters were just standing around watching the man drown, when in fact they were putting on their dry suits and inflating the raft.

One bystander recorded and posted this 10-minute video that shows the early actions of the FD (and which belies the rumors that have been started):

 

An autopsy of the victim disclosed that he died from drowning.

Read the full details of this extended operation in the News-Gazette HERE.

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