Battalion Chief Jack Webb of the Derry Fire Department was philosophical after the department and Derry Police rescued two 12-year-olds who fell through the ice at Hood Pond.
“That’s the age when they start taking risks,” he said.
The two boys fell through the ice Thursday, Nov. 20, after they played street hockey at the park and decided to try playing hockey on the pond. Derry Fire was alerted by 23-year-old Daniel Williams of Derry, who was shooting hoops and called 9-1-1.
Engine 1, Medics 1 and 2 and Car 1 were dispatched to the park at 4 Rollins St., while Engine 4, on its way to check an illegal outside burn, diverted to the park. When Engine 4 arrived its crew found one boy clinging to the ice and the other bobbing in the water, trying to stay afloat.
Firefighter Jim Hoffman, in an ice rescue suit, crawled across the ice to get to the boys while the Engine 4 crew, Lt. Richard Payne and Firefighter/Paramedic Steve Auger tended the rescue line attached to him along with three Derry police officers, Sgt. Shawn O’Donaghue, Officer Peter Houlis and Officer Patrick Starkey. Firefighter/Paramedic Al Daviault and Firefighter Tom Porter of Derry Medic 1 joined them.
Hoffman found one boy still clinging to the ice and one submerged, with only his head above the water. The water was about seven feet deep at this point, Webb wrote in a press release, and Hoffman grabbed hold of both boys. The line crew pulled them back to shore.
At one point Hoffman got wedged against the ice. While holding a boy in each arm, he used his elbows to break himself free. All seven men on the line crew were needed to pull Hoffman and the two boys to shore over the broken ice.
In the meantime Firefighter/Paramedic Tom Beaumont and Firefighter Anthony DeRosa had donned ice rescue suits and entered the water.
Webb wrote that from the time the call was dispatched to the time the boys were rescued was only six minutes, but when the crews arrived the boys had been in the water eight to nine minutes. “If there had been any delay in the response or the rescue, it is likely that at least one of the boys would have submerged under the ice,” Webb wrote.
Hoffman suffered contusions and abrasions to his back when he became wedged by the ice and the ice ripped open the back of his ice rescue suit, according to Webb. Webb wrote that Hoffman was treated at the station.
The two boys were taken by ambulance to Parkland Medical Center, where they were treated for severe hypothermia, and released several hours later.
In a phone interview Friday, Webb said the department has between eight and 10 ice rescue suits, which were paid for out of the regular budget. The equipment also includes two inflatable boats, one kept at the Hampstead Road station and one at the Island Pond Road station. The Hampstead Road station has a supply of rope and other ice rescue equipment, while the boat at Island Pond is used both winter and summer. The department also owns a number of smaller inflatable boats that are used for rescue in hard-to-reach places, he said.
“We train for this annually, and Lt. Richard Fisher is a certified ice rescue instructor,” Webb said.
While he warns the community at large to be careful around ice, Webb said he skipped the lecture for the two boys, leaving it to the parents. But he doesn’t think they’ll need it, Webb added, noting that he thought they had learned their lesson.
Webb and the Fire Department warned that despite the cold, the ice is still thin and will remain so at least until January.
The New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game offers the following guidelines for ice usage:
• Don’t drive vehicles onto the ice.
• If on foot, carefully assess ice safety before venturing out. Use an ice chisel or auger to determine thickness and condition. Continue to do this as you go further across the ice, because the thickness will not be uniform across the body of water.
• A rule of thumb offered by the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory is a minimum of 6 inches of hard ice for foot travel and 8 to 10 inches for snow machine or ATV (all-terrain vehicle) travel.
• Thick ice does not necessarily mean safe ice. Ice can be thick but not strong, depending on weather conditions. In particular, weak ice is formed when warming trends break down ice, and then the slushy surface re-freezes.
• Ice can be thinner in areas with a current, such as inlets, outlets and spring holes.
• Ice should be avoided altogether during thaws.
• Small bodies of water tend to freeze thicker, while rivers and lakes are more prone to wind, currents and wave action that weakens the ice.
• If you break through the ice, don’t panic. Move or swim back to where you fell in, where you know the ice was solid. Lay both arms on the unbroken ice and kick hard, which will lift your body onto the ice. Once out of the water, roll away from the hole until you reach solid ice. And if you plan to be on the ice, carry a set of ice picks.