Water Rescue Team holds annual ice training

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Winter in the Black Hills brings with it a new set of enjoyable outdoor activities, some of them on frozen lakes like Pactola Reservoir. But, like all outdoor activities, there are safety hazards to keep in mind.

“Even today, we have multiple ice fishermen out,” said Calen Maningas, leader of the Water Rescue Team. “The risk there depends on the weather and the thaw and freeze cycle. The ice can be strong or weak, and we have a large population that goes and enjoys the ice. It’s a danger to them.”

About a dozen members of the Water Rescue Team, composed of personnel from the Rapid City Police and Fire Departments, as well as the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office and Search and Rescue, gathered Thursday for their annual recurrent ice training and certification for new team members.

Search and retrieval in water is always dangerous, but ice divers need to be prepared for the unique challenges of frozen waters.

“We have the dangers of the ice freezing and thawing,” said Maningas. “The ice can be weak, or it can be solid, which presents its own hazards to divers for access.”

During the training exercises, divers performed an object retrieval and an under-ice rescue simulation. Safety of the divers and support crew is always paramount, and various measures are in place to ensure that divers can get help when necessary.

“While we have one diver down, we’ll have two staged to possibly help that diver rescue either the victim, or actually rescue the diver, depending on the situation,” Maningas said.

The ice divers also got some robotic support, a Fisher Finder remotely operated vehicle (ROV), one of only two of its kind in South Dakota. The ROV gives the Water Rescue Team an incredible advantage in search and retrieval operations, as well as an added measure of safety.

“We can send the ROV, and it can stay under with no limit on time for how long it’s under,” said Maningas. They can go from point to point of interest. So, it definitely expedites the process. We’ll be able to send the ROV, confirm points, and once we find objects [of interest], then we send our divers in to retrieve, or confirm, or take evidence.”

While the Water Rescue Team is always honing and developing its skills, outdoor enthusiasts can help them out by using the ice safely.

“We always recommend, especially in the early and late season, knowing the ice thickiness,” said Maningas. “You want thick, solid ice.”

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