Bouchard warns residents to be safe on ice

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Pontiac — Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard warns residents that despite recent cold-numbing temperatures, there is no ice that is 100 percent safe and caution should be used when venturing out on lakes and waterways.

Oakland County has several hundred waterways to which residents flock for winter sports activity including skating, ice fishing and snowmobiling. But every year, accidents occur when they encounter ice too thin to support the weight of man or machine.

“Understanding the risks of going out on the ice that is potentially dangerous will help keep your family, friends, and neighbors safe,” Bouchard said this week. “Familiarizing yourself with some simple ice safety tips can help prevent a tragedy from occurring.”

To minimize risk for recreational use of clear, solid blue ice, here’s a guide:

■5 inches thick minimum for general use (fishing, ice skating, and foot traffic)

■8 inches thick minimum for travel by snowmobile, off road vehicle. (Automobiles should never be driven out on the ice since this would void any insurance claim.)

Ice conditions change daily, Bouchard warned, and some signs of changing ice conditions can be moving water near a stream or river, an unseen spring or inlet, slushy areas, depressions in the snow, heavy snow, white “milky” or black colored ice as well as “frazzle” ice, which has been weakened by the freeze-thaw cycles. Frazzle ice is pocketed with tiny air pockets and often looks like frozen slush.

Bouchard said no one should ever go out alone on ice and always take a partner or someone who can call 911 or seek help in an emergency.

Other safety tips:

■Plan ahead by dressing appropriately for changing weather conditions. Dress in layers to protect all exposed parts of your body. Consider making a personal flotation device part of your overall protective clothing or a flotation jacket or suit. Ice creepers attached to boots will help to keep you stable on the ice and can assist in self-rescue.

■Take safety items such as a cellphone, whistle, rope, ice pick or awls, screwdriver, hand flares, flashlight and throwable flotation device.

■Check ice thickness with an ice spud, auger or cordless drill. If you discover a weak spot, retrace your route off the ice. Keep a distance between others in your group.

■At the sound of cracking or unsafe ice, people should spread out, immediately lie down (which will distribute your weight) and crawl back to safer ice in the direction you came.

■If someone falls through the ice, do not run to the hole. First call 911 and get help on the way. After contacting emergency responders, use a pole, branch, rope or any other handy object, which can be extended to the victim from a safe position.

■If you fall through ice, don’t panic. Call out for help and kick your feet while getting your hands and arms up onto safer ice. This is when an ice awl or screwdriver will help you with your self-rescue. Continue to “swim” up onto the ice far enough to crawl or “roll-out” to safer ice.

■Snowmobiles, ORVs and vehicles on the ice increase your risk of falling through, especially at night. Many accidents occur when operators are driving at a high rate of speed and are unable to slow or stop in time to avoid open water or unsafe ice.

■Pets that venture onto unsafe ice are another major cause for many near drownings and deaths. If you find your pet has ventured out onto the ice, resist the urge to go out after them. Stay at a safe position on shore and persuade them back to safety.

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