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Reno firefighters urge residents to stay off frozen ponds and lakes as winter weather continues

A Reno firefighter stands on the shore of a pond while another responder carries an ice rescue boat across the ice.
Bert Johnson
Reno firefighters trained with the department's new ice rescue boat on Jan. 9, 2024.

Forecasters with the National Weather Service are predicting another storm will bring snow to the Truckee Meadows this week. But even with the arrival of winter weather, Reno never gets cold enough to make stable ice on ponds or lakes.

In spite of the risk, the Reno Fire Department still gets calls about kids going out to play on frozen ponds.

Jonathan Bernard leads the department’s Water Entry Team. If someone does fall in, he said they’ve got around 10 minutes to pull themselves out.

“After that your body is so cold that your muscles kind of cramp up and are ineffective, then you're stuck,” he explained.

Bernard added that their average response time in the city of Reno is between six to eight minutes, which doesn’t leave much margin for error.

“By the time we show up, you're running out of time pretty quickly,” he said.

This week, Bernard is training other firefighters to rescue people who’ve fallen through the ice. The department refreshes ice rescue skills for all of its frontline personnel at the beginning of each winter.

This year, however, they’re also being trained on a new ice rescue boat, which distributes a person’s weight over the ice to help keep them from falling through again during a rescue. Crews can also pull the craft like a sled, instead of dragging a patient and their rescuer across the ice.

Not only is that more comfortable, but Bernard said it’s a safer way to conduct a rescue.

“Once you get hypothermic like that, your heart gets really unstable,” he said. “It’s really easy to shake somebody into their heartstopping when they’re that cold.”

But Battalion Chief Paul Patocka would prefer to see the new ice rescue boat left unused, after training wraps up. But that all depends on people being aware of the risk.

“Typically, we get folks walking their dogs, they let them off leash in a park such as this, and then the dog will run out onto the ice chasing a duck or a goose or something,” Patocka said. “Now the dog’s on the ice. The ice is thin, [the dog] breaks through. And then the owner or people will try to rescue the dog.”

So Patocka has a simple message for local residents: Stay off the ice.

Bert is KUNR’s senior correspondent. He covers stories that resonate across Nevada and the region, with a focus on environment, political extremism and Indigenous communities.
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