Danger on Donner Lake: Frozen water not safe | SierraSun.com

Danger on Donner Lake: Frozen water not safe

Sierra Countis
Sierra Sun

Emma Garrard/Sierra Sun Emma Garrard/Sierra Sun

Truckee Fire Protection District personnel don’t usually get to practice their annual ice rescue exercise at Donner Lake because recent winters haven’t brought much ice.

The recent cold snap changed that situation, freezing most of the lake and making ideal training conditions on Monday, said Truckee Fire Battalion Chief Greg Burch. .

About 50 yards off Donner Lake’s shore the ice is four to six inches thick, Burch said, which enticed many people to recreate on the hardened lake surface over the weekend. Although the frozen lake can bear a substantial weight limit, he said, the ice is much thinner toward the middle. The water temperature is close to 36 degrees, he said.

Because of rising temperatures no one patrolling the area, people should beware, said Burch, the training officer who led the rescue exercise.

“We would recommend not going out on the ice,” he said. “The ice is not safe.”

A dog fell through the ice on Saturday and fortunately was able to climb out without assistance, Burch said.

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Wearing cold water immersion suits comparable to those worn by deep sea fisherman in the North Atlantic Ocean, firefighters practiced ice rescues at Donner Lake on Monday.

A surface ice rescue involves a “multi-tiered level of response” from emergency personnel, Burch said. To rescue a single victim requires a rescue team typically consisting of four to six people, he said. Carefully creeping across the lake with ropes attached to shore, Truckee Fire staff practiced cinching chest harnesses around the role-playing “victim” in order to safely bring the person to shore.

While the Truckee Police Department dive team didn’t participate in the rescue exercise Monday, the department did observe the exercise and does have five certified divers that respond to drowning emergencies, said Truckee Police Officer Russ Walsh. The dive team trains once a month.

Walsh, who is a dive team member and boating officer, said ice diving requires very technical training, which Truckee police divers do not have, but ice training exercises are something the department is looking into.

In a scenario of an ice rescue emergency, Truckee police will aid personnel from the shoreline, Walsh said. With no signs posted around the lake cautioning people of the dangers of frozen waters in winter, the department tries to educate people of existing hazards, he said.