Ice safety tips for dog owners
• Don't let your dog off-leash near ponds or bodies of water, no matter how frozen they appear.
• If your dog gets
• Know that help is on the way. Boulder Fire Rescue treats "dog on ice" calls as emergencies and will respond as quickly as possible with other emergency personnel.
The call went out over Boulder's emergency radio frequency Tuesday morning: "(Units) respond to KOA Lake just to the east of Western Disposal for a dog on the ice."
Then, a few seconds later: "An update for you. There's a party that has gone out after the dog and it looks like they've fallen in, and his friend is going after the party onto the ice."
The call was fake — a simulation conducted during a training exercise — but the details mimic very real circumstances that members of Boulder Fire Rescue experience every winter.
Shifts of firefighters took turns rescuing the dog — a plush Dalmatian named Spot the department began using last year — and the two submerged individuals, who were played by other firefighters in bright yellow water-rescue suits, in the icy waters of KOA Lake near the southeast corner of Valmont Road and 57th Street
"Help! Help!" the two play-acting firefighters shouted.
"We're coming to get you," one of the rescuers yelled from shore.
As two firefighters made their way across the ice toward the simulated victims, Eric Begin, an engineer in the fire department who led the training, gave tips to his colleagues still on the pond's edge.
With a hand signal from across the ice, the crew on shore began tugging on a rope attached to the rescuer to pull him and a victim from the water.
"You're going to gently take slack and when he gives you the actual 'Go,' then you'll give a good haul on it," Begin told them.
The training, held every winter, is practical in Boulder, where dogs are popular companions.
Jeremy Felix, a firefighter and member of the water-rescue team, said it's a common misconception that emergency personnel won't respond if a dog gets stranded on ice or falls into an icy pond.
The fire department runs emergent, meaning with lights and sirens, to all "dog in icy water" calls because they know how dog owners think.
"We know that people are going to go out after their dogs," Felix said.
The department responds to at least 10 calls a year involving dogs and cold water or ice, and every engine company within the department is capable of performing an ice rescue, Felix said.
If human fall into icy water, which is just above freezing, they become hypothermic relatively quickly, Felix said. He added that once the fire department responds, the first priority will be rescuing any humans on the ice or in the water first.
His advice: stay on the shore and call 911 immediately.
"If the dog fell through, you're going to fall through," he said. "If the ice didn't support the dog, it certainly isn't going to support you."
Felix cautioned against letting dogs off-leash anywhere near ponds or lakes, even if they may appear frozen. Even the best trained dogs are subject to distraction and temptation — geese, squirrels, rabbits — which can lead to an emergency.
With Colorado's variable weather, ice solidity can fluctuate rapidly.
"People assume, 'Oh it's thick,'" Felix said. "What we're worried about is in a week or so. This weekend it's supposed to be getting a lot warmer. This is still going to look like solid ice, but it's melting. Out in the middle, it might be a lot thinner, near the shore it might be thinner. We don't know."