Fired up: Enough is enough | SierraSun.com

Fired up: Enough is enough

Bryce E. Keller

Friday a man ventured out onto the ice at Donner Lake and fell through losing his life. This was a terrible yet avoidable tragedy. He fell through near the middle of the lake where the depth is more than 180 feet.As I write, recovery crews are preparing for Saturdays operations. However, on Friday well-trained, brave men and women from the Truckee Interagency Dive Team responded to the scene and attempted a rescue. Fridays victim of the frigid waters had no business being out on the ice and ultimately put others at risk.Firefighters understand there are calculated risks associated with their chosen professions. Truckees firefighters and divers are well-trained and well-equipped, but there are still unknowns and risks involved with ice rescues. These brave men and women answered the call Friday and risked their own lives for another human being. They sized up the situation, went out on the lake in the fire/rescue boat with their SCUBA gear to conduct an underwater search. The rescuers hoped to find the victim submerged under the ice flow or suspended in a thermocline within reasonable SCUBA diving depths. Despite their heroic efforts they were unable to find the victim. After an exhaustive search the incident transitioned to a recovery mode.So how did this happen? No one will ever know what exact thoughts compelled the victim to venture out into the middle of the lake on unstable ice.Here is what I do know; ice is like a freshly painted wall, posted wet paint. Most cant resist checking to see if the paint is really wet. How many of you have done it? Ice has the same lure affect on the masses. The obvious difference is that you can easily hide or wash off the paint on the end of your finger compared to drowning in frigid waters after falling through the ice. I would argue that the recent articles in local papers and television coverage of the accumulations of Ice in Truckee added to the lure affect. The overwhelming message was, come and experience the ice. Yes, there were warnings in the stories of the inherent dangers, but like the wet paint it is human nature to ignore the warnings/safe guards and venture out. Unfortunately by the time the media stories were aired and or printed the ice was already changing on Donner Lake.The fire district recognized the potential dangers of the ice accumulations during the last several weeks on many local lakes and recently conducted refresher training for ice rescues. We gave warnings to the press urging people to stay off the ice and to use extreme caution. I am the first one to tell you that I am not an expert on ice. However, I do know weather conditions change rapidly in the Sierra and Ive always known that these changing conditions can and will kill you. In this case the subtle, thats right, subtle warming trend changed once stable ice to a death trap. The fire district and other public safety agencies continuously issue warnings about current and potential dangers. The warnings are often about winter driving, storm watches, checking smoke detectors, dangerous fire weather, the need for defensible space or in this case dangerous ice conditions. I often wonder if anyone is listening? If you are one of the few who are listening and taking personal responsibility for your actions I applaud you. However I have proof that not all are listening or willing to head the warnings of professionals. When I left the Donner Lake recovery scene and traveled east along the north side of the lake I couldnt believe my eyes 30-40 people remained out on the deteriorating ice. I know the police department repeatedly issued warnings after the reported drowning in the area, yet these people were determined to ignore the warnings and tempt fate. I called the command post and advised them of what I saw and they confirmed to me again that several warnings had been given. This is when I got fired up! We had just placed highly trained rescue divers at risk attempting to save a life of another human being. I know the dive team is prepared to do it again; I reminded myself that my first responsibility is for the safety and welfare of our firefighter/divers. I had to ask myself when is enough, enough? What could those people on the ice be thinking?As always, the fire district will respond and assist people in need and attempt to mitigate emergencies. There are somethings we just cant fix. You have chosen to live and play in the mountains and the rural areas of California. For your sake and others, I beg you to listen and head the warnings and advice given by the professionals. Take responsibility for your own actions and understand the consequences of your actions or lack thereof may put others at risk. Bryce E. Keller is the chief of the Truckee Fire Protection District.