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Dive team trains on Patterson Lake to help people and animals that fall through ice

Ice fishing season might be ending, but the Dickinson Rural Fire Department Dive and Rescue team are training to rescue people or animals that might fall through the thin ice this spring.

The Dickinson Rural Fire Department Dive and Rescue team trained on Lake Patterson in mustang suits to practice rescue techniques on thin ice. (Submitted Photo)
The Dickinson Rural Fire Department Dive and Rescue team trained on Lake Patterson in mustang suits to practice rescue techniques on thin ice. (Submitted Photo)

Ice fishing season might be ending, but the Dickinson Rural Fire Department Dive and Rescue team are training to rescue people or animals that might fall through the thin ice this spring.

"We're probably one of the only volunteer teams in the area, everyone else is pretty much ran by the sheriffs' departments," said Dickinson Rural Fire Department Dive Chief and Commander Todd Ehresmann.

The dive team went to Patterson Lake this past weekend and originally were planning to do dives underneath the ice, but with the warm weather trained instead on thin ice rescue and recovery.

The group trained in mustang suits-a hypothermia and flotation protection suit.

Tim Seiler, a dive team member, said the mustang suits allow divers to get into their equipment and onto the thin ice in a matter of minutes.

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"We just rolled through some of the scenarios with (thin ice) this weekend with some of our newer members," Seiler said. "With spring coming and thin ice, it's just a good refresher to get out there and see what we can do to help a person or help a situation with say like a dog or animal."

Ehresmann said he would encourage people to stay off of the ice completely. He said he estimated that the shore line is as thin as two to four inches and will only get thinner with the wind and warm temperatures coming up.

The team has 18 members currently and will be certifying an additional nine people in two weeks.
Seiler said they are always preparing for the moment they are called in.

"The dive team is very active in Dickinson," Seiler said. "We don't have a ton of calls, but we do practice every month. We try to get into the water every month."

Ehresmann said that they had two calls last year which were recoveries, and four rescue calls in 2015 from Patterson Lake.

Because of the size of their area, which covers all of western North Dakota, Lemmon, S.D., and even into Montana, a portion of their calls are recoveries.

With Patterson Lake being the only lake in the vicinity, he said unless the accident happens close to Dickinson, they do not have enough time to get to the scene, into their equipment, and onto the ice before hypothermia and exhaustion sets in on the victim.

He said that in one year alone, they received up to eight calls, but some years they might not receive many or any.

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The volunteer group trains once a month in the water and then spends a full week of training in the summer on Lake Sakakawea, he said.

Ehresmann said not only does his department dedicate a lot of time and training to rescue, but they also spend their own money.

He said that they make an initial investment of $800 for open water training, which not only shows commitment but a willingness to learn. The department funds everything else from the equipment to the other training, which he said can run between $5,000 to $7,000 per diver. But he said he thinks it's a small cost when looking at the big picture.

"If we are needed even just once a year, I guess in my mind that justifies having it," he said. "If we can get in the water and save a life, to me, there's no price you can put on that."

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