Tonawanda News

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January 12, 2014

Firefighters urge caution around Tonawanda-area waterways

Rescue personnel urge caution around Tonawanda-area waterways

Tonawanda News — No matter how cold it is, no matter how solid the ice appears, Twin Cities fire personnel have a serious message for anyone who might consider trying their weight on the frozen waters in and around the Tonawandas: No ice is ever safe ice.

On Thursday, City of Tonawanda Fire Chief Charles Stuart cautioned residents about the dangers of walking onto the ice-covered waterways, including the Erie Canal, Ellicott Creek or Niagara River, a hazard exacerbated by the rising and falling water conditions this week. 

In some places, the water froze at its higher levels during the early part of the week, he said, followed by the decrease of the water level later in the week. In some places, this has left a gap of as many as several feet between the surface level of the ice shelf and the level of the water below it. 

“Normally when you break through the ice, it’s not a good thing. It’s hard to pull yourself out ...” he said. “In this situation, if you were to fall through the ice down to the water ... you may not be able to grab onto anything. Nobody would even see you.”

It’s possible that the ice surface will drop to the level of the water, but there’s no guarantee, Stuart said. The expected rising temperatures of this weekend won’t help the ice conditions either.

In North Tonawanda, Assistant Fire Chief  Joe Sikora agreed with Stuart’s comments, mentioning the hazards of the condensed frozen ice chunks on the river, the dangerous current that still exists in the canal and anywhere two waterways meet.

“No ice is actually safe ice,” he said. “You want to stay off it at all times.”

Both cities have ice rescue teams, and the City of Tonawanda personnel will be out practicing rescues this morning near Young Street. Stuart said they follow a “reach, throw, go” protocol for such circumstances, first trying to reach any victims with poles or ropes or throwing safety equipment to them. If that is unsuccessful, personnel can go out into the water after victims, protected by special equipment.

 But nothing is ever safe when it comes to ice, Sikora agreed.

“We are prepared if, God forbid, something happens,” he said. “We are prepared if it should happen, but the best advice is just to stay off the ice.”

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