Wis. firefighter-paramedic demonstrates how to survive falling through ice

Adam Walton said victims have 45 minutes to an hour before they lose all ability to help themselves

By Frank Schultz
The Janesville Gazette

JANESVILLE, Wis. —“I want to get in the ambulance. I can't feel my legs.”

That was Adam Walton, a Janesville firefighter/paramedic after his third dip into the frigid waters of the trout pond at Rotary Botanical Gardens on Friday.

Walton, a fishing guide in his spare time, had voluntarily jumped into winter waters once before, about three years ago.

The video from that plunge has been viewed more than a million times on various social media, he said.

Friday, Walton did it again for the filming of a segment of “Larry Smith Outdoors,” a Fox Sports program.

The Gazette was invited along to show people how they might save themselves if they fall through the ice.

Keeping the event safe were Janesville firefighters, who provided an ambulance on standby, a diver in the water and two firefighters in exposure suits, just in case something went wrong.

Nothing did.

But as Walton waited in the warmth of the Central Fire Station, he was nervous. He was remembering how it felt.

“It's going to be absolutely horrible,” he said.

“It sucks the air out of you. You can't breathe."

The first minute or two is when the body gets adjusted, but the inability to breathe properly can lead to trouble.

“Most people panic, and that's when they drown,” Walton said.

Wait for your body to adjust, and then make a plan to get out, Walton advised.

Out on the ice, Walton jumped in, gasped, adjusted and then slowly pulled himself out, kicking his legs to propel himself onto the ice.

He gingerly spread his weight on the ice as he emerged and then rolled to safety.

He jumped back in to show how to do it with ice picks.

The picks are a set of plastic handles with spikes at their ends and are a must for those who work or play on the ice, he said.

His cost $4.89, and they could save a life.

Walton went in for a third time, and that's when he decided he was done. He stripped off his clothing. Bare skin is warmer at that point then wet clothing, he said.

Walton said victims have 45 minutes to an hour before they lose all ability to help themselves, as the cold sucks the strength from their bodies.

Larry Smith of the TV show went in four times, once to demonstrate a device the size of a large purse that self-inflates into a rescue boat.

At $400, it's a bargain, considering it could save a life, Smith said.

Smith also allowed a firefighter in an exposure suit to rescue him. Both were pulled from the water with a rope.

Battalion Chief Ron Bomkamp said this is the earliest the fire department has done any winter water training.

A cold snap this fall created a lot of ice, but Walton cautioned would-be snowmobilers and anglers to be careful. In some places, the ice is just a few inches thick.

Snow acted as a blanket and kept more ice from forming in some places, Walton said.

Bomkamp said anyone who sees someone fall into icy waters should call 911 but keep an eye on where the person went in, so firefighters know where to look when they arrive.

“Don't try to rescue them. Don't become another victim,” Bomkamp said.

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