Lake Tahoe emergency responders: Stay off thinning ice this spring | RecordCourier.com

Lake Tahoe emergency responders: Stay off thinning ice this spring

by Ryan Hoffman
rhoffman@tahoedailytribune.com

When two dogs fell through the ice in Tahoe Keys this past weekend they fortunately managed to make it out of the water alive, albeit cold and exhausted.

The incident, which came at the end of a relatively calm winter in terms of issues on the ice, raises what local officials say is an important reminder: It's getting warmer, and people and animals should stay off frozen lakes, ponds and waterways.

"I think that people sometimes underestimate how thin the ice is … some spots are going to be thinner than others," said Kim George, a captain and paramedic with South Lake Tahoe Fire Rescue.

Personally, George recommends simply staying off the ice.

"It makes me nervous," she said. "With our variable weather patterns it's just not trustworthy."

Ron Sitton, a battalion chief with Lake Valley Fire Protection District, echoed that point. While some lakes and ponds at higher elevation are likely safer, Sitton recommends avoiding any bodies of water at lake level that appear frozen at any point in the year — particularly now.

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"This time of year especially," he said. "It may in fact look solid, but it's not."

A sure sign of that is the presence of open water.

"Any open water around ice, that's something you don't want to be on," Sitton said.

On Saturday the Tahoe Keys Property Owners Association passed an immediate rule change addressing ice safety throughout the property association, Tahoe Keys Lagoons and Lake Tallac. Among the changes, the rule states that people should stay off frozen waterways.

In posting about the recent incident in Tahoe Keys on Facebook, SLTFR stated that the owner of the dogs did not call 911. As comments started appearing on social media, George said she was surprised to learn how many people did not think you could or should call 911 in such a case.

SLTFR will absolutely respond to calls involving a pet falling through ice, George said.

"We go code three, lights and sirens," she said. "It's a big deal and we don't take it lightly."

While many of the men and women at the department are compassionate pet owners, the bigger concern, George explained, is that the pet owner will go into the water to try and save the animal, creating another rescue situation.

"We don't want the pet owner going in," she said.

The best thing to do, whether it's a person or an animal, is call 911 immediately. SLTFR responders are usually on the scene within five minutes, according to George.

Time is a critical factor in such cases, as physiological effects of cold water, including hypothermia, do not take very long to settle in.

More broadly, the Coast Guard encourages people planning on recreating out on frozen bodies of water to remember the acronym ICE, which stands for information, clothing and equipment.

Fortunately, this winter has been relatively calm in terms of the number of service requests to South Shore agencies involving a person or pet falling through ice.

Aside from a dog rescue in January, SLTFR has not responded to any other calls of that nature this winter, George said.

Back in December, a 13-year-old boy fell through the ice while riding his bicycle on Lake Baron, the Tribune reported. He was saved by the quick actions of a bystander.

At the time officials with Lake Valley Fire Protection District and El Dorado County Sheriff's Department, both of which responded to the incident, issued a warning about the potential dangers of trekking out onto ice in the Tahoe Basin. In short, they said, there is no safe ice at lake level.

"We are very fortunate today; this situation could have easily been tragic," Lake Valley Fire Marshal Brad Zlendick stated in a press release at the time.

Ice Safety Rules

Passed by the Tahoe Keys Property Owners Association

1. For your safety, do not attempt to walk or run onto, play on, skate, sled or ski on or allow your pets to be on the lagoons, lakes and waterways when frozen.

2. Do not throw rocks, trash or other items onto or into the TKPOA lagoons and waterways.

3. Don’t play on the ice along the shore, even if the ice appears solid.

4. Parents and caregivers should not leave children unattended near lake and lagoon ice.

5. If an individual should see someone else falling through the ice, do not attempt to make a rescue by yourself by going out onto the ice. Try to throw a life ring, flotation device or rope for the victim to hold on to. Call 911 as quickly as possible. Be sure to give the exact location and an account of the incident.

6. Association management, employees, and TKPOA security department are responsible for ensuring these rules are complied with and enforced.

7. The TKPOA reserves the right to post “Ice Safety” signs in designated areas advising of the potential danger, and a disclaimer of association liability or responsibility for persons not observing these rules.