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Ogdensburg Fire Department conducts training exercises in the St. Lawrence River


With ice picks in hand, members of the Ogdensburg Fire Department donned bright orange wetsuits Thursday morning and took a plunge in the frigid St. Lawrence River.

Assistant Fire Chief Ray J. LaRock said the training session is an annual event that keeps the department ready in case someone falls through the ice or gets stranded.

“Annually we do the training when the conditions allow,” Mr. LaRock said.

The exercise is part of the 100 to 110 hours of training firefighters are required to get each year.

The wetsuits, called Mustang suits, are specially designed to keep fire fighters dry and warm during rescue operations, and they double as flotation devices, Mr. LaRock said.

“They are highly insulated and pretty much water proof,” he said. “I was in the water for about 10 minutes and I got nothing more than a drop where the zipper closes.”

Mustang suits are used whenever the department thinks that level of protection is necessary, Mr. LaRock said. They typically wear them in cold weather.

Mr. LaRock said the training session, held at the Paterson Street boat launch, helps ensure that firefighters are comfortable with how the suits behave in the water so they aren’t caught off guard when they’re in the field.

Despite their bulk, the suits have a tendency to lift firefighters off their feet due to their buoyancy, Mr. LaRock said.

“You can’t sink in them,” he said. “It’s fairly hard to stand upright.”

The department also spent Thursday morning training with ice picks that allow them to climb back onto the ice after being in the water, Mr. LaRock said, and a specially designed pontoon that lets fire fighters walk across thin ice and float on water.

Mr. LaRock said fire fighters took turns being the victim and the rescuer during the training.

Known as an “ice rescue sled,” the pontoon “will allow the rescuer to be able to reach the victim,” Mr. LaRock said. “It’s designed with a retrieval system on the sled. You wrap it around and pull the person up on the sled. That’s a device that we would utilized if someone was through the ice and we couldn’t get a boat.”

So far, Mr. LaRock said, the department hasn’t had to use the equipment for any major operations, but they are ready for the worst case scenario.

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