Seeking Lighting Advice for Under Ice Rescue

jayflash

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Two Rivers, Wisconsin
The day after Thanksgiving brought tragedy to my small city with the deaths of two boys who drowned after breaking through thin river ice. A third boy barely escaped the same fate.

As I was driving past the river near my home, I was horrified to see the destination of the many sirens I heard minutes earlier. The Two Rivers Fire Dept. ladder truck had all 85' of its ladder extended low over the river, with a firefighter at the end looking into the broken ice and water.

As a new city council member and former paid-on-call firefighter I felt the need to be informed, so I continued home for my scanner and went back to observe and listen from across the river, close to my home.

Three firefighters were already in with their cold water rescue suits, ropes and pike poles. They were having difficulty seeing beneath the surface, due to the sun and turbidity of the water. They had to rely on feeling. I briefly considered running home for my two UK 18watt dive lights, but it would have taken too long and I doubted they'd be bright enough.

After 50 minutes of being submerged they found one boy right where he went in and the other about 15 minutes after that, close by. The water was mostly 3' - 5' feet deep except for the narrow channel of 8' water where the boys were laying on the bottom. Although revived and air-lifted to Milwaukee, they both died later that night.

I've briefly discussed the situation with our fire chief and will be addressing this further. My thought, at this point, is that an HID dive light held under the water's surface may have sped up locating the victims. Ambient light was high with the 2:30pm sun, but the dive light would only have to penetrate about 10' - 15' to be effective.

We have two, muddy, generally shallow, slower moving, rivers flowing through town and the TRFD regularly trains for ice rescue. The two rivers combine near Lake Michigan and form a 12' - 18' deep harbor which enters the lake between two 1/4 mile long piers.

Any advice will be greatly appreciated.
 

Hooked on Fenix

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I'm sorry about the situation, but I can't think of anything that would work in that situation either. I think the extreme heat on the glass lens of any H.I.D. spotlight combined with ice cold water may crack or shatter the lens. The ballast provides the light with high voltage and I think it could electrocute the rescuers and those needing to be rescued. This may be a case where the solution could be worse than the problem. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong.
 

Lynx_Arc

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Tulsa,OK
I am guessing if they couldn't easily find them close where they fell in a brighter light probably wouldn't have helped much as in a fog a brighter foglamp may not help any if it is too thick in the first place. If the boys had lights on them they probably would have been found right away..... but how long did it take from when they fell in to when someone showed up?
 

HarryN

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I still remember as a kid falling through the ice on a shallow creek (less than 2 ft deep). It was pretty scary and shockingly cold. Thank you for thinking about how to make your community better.

I am not sure about fresh water, but I have been told that for "deep" seawater use, an LED flashlight at 488nm has the best penetration. This includes all of the junk and floaters in the water.

There are some good common sense reasons for this - the basics are:
- 488nm sits between the absorbtion bands of many plants
- water is highly transparent at this color (which is why clear ocean water is sort of aqua / blue / green color)

The water you have is "dark" - hard to get any light through it.

I really don't know if anything will help you from a light perspective, but I do have another idea - dogs. I saw a show where a trained dog could find a person who had fallen into the water just from the smell.

It might not be pretty, but it might be faster to find someone under water / ice with a net or hooks than groping around. Cut up is better than lost.

I wonder if perhaps there is a training / equipment option for the local kids. Example - train every kid to carry a 10 ft piece of bright colored floating rope on them (rolled up) maybe with an end that can be thrown. Even a 1/4 in dia rope is plenty in that situation to help.
 

jayflash

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Two Rivers, Wisconsin
Thanks for the replies, so far. I posted ice safety suggestions on our local newspaper's community forums. More ideas are welcomed.

What I'm looking for is advice on a bright, practical, dive light, because the rescuers had nothing. A very bright dive light may have shown the river bottom at five to eight feet deep. They may have to do this at night, too.

The cold water rescue team doesn't wear dive masks, but I wonder if they had a bright light lowered near the river bottom, and rotated it, might that have helped? I'm willing to experiment with my lights, but if somebody here had experience, it may speed up my quest.
 

Mike Painter

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Sep 16, 2002
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You said turbid water and that usually means very limited visibility, special techniques and a bit of luck.
A very simple solution to at least test the light idea is just hook a sealed beam car light up to a 12 volt battery, lower it into the water then turn it on and see what you get. My first dive light, an old Dacor used a six volt light and they are good to a remarkable depth.
A mask would have made a big difference. I suspect that ice fishing goes on in your area and you could probably find one of those boxes with a piece of glass or plastic on the bottom
You said they finally found them where they went down.
That is usually the case, even in rapidly flowing canals. A body will drift only until it hits bottom, then tends to stay put.

You might want to visit some of the Public Safety Diver spots for more information.
 

HarryN

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Hi - reviving a bit of an old thread as I had a new suggestion. I was at a Bass Pro Shop the other day looking at depth / fish finders, and was very impressed with the resolution, depth range, screens, and frankly, relatively low price.

There are many brands out there, but the ones that caught my eye are some from Humingbird in the $ 70 - 200 range. The screens are quite reasonable, some are designed specifically to cary in a small pack, and even the ones that are intended for installation look like you could mount on a stick. For less that $ 350, you could make up a nice fish finder, stick mount, and a 12 ish volt r/c sub C pack.

Maybe it could be tested now yet before the ice hits. A diver could try going down in the river and you can see if they can be spotted with the fish finder. I don't know if this could work, but it will definitely "see" through murky water better than a flashlight.
 

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