On the ice, dial up common sense, personal responsibility over 911

Saving someone who has fallen through the ice is better than calling someone else to come and help. (Contributed photo)

Ran into my friend, Joe, one morning at the Post Office. I needed stamps, Joe lived in town and had a mailbox in the lobby. It’s one of those places in a small town where people often greet each other with, “Get your buck yet?” or “Finding any mushrooms?”

So when I crossed paths with Joe, I greeted him with, “Hey, Joe, been fishing lately?” He paused and pulled me into the corner like he was about to let me in on a government secret.

“I’m never going out there again,” he said.

“There” was a local reservoir lake not far from town that had been around for well over 50 years. It has good fishing most of the year and it’s an even better ice fishing lake. Most summer days it’s populated mostly by local fishermen. In winter, people travel an hour or more to get there.

Like most lakes, especially ones with an inlet and outlet, the ice on this lake is never perfectly safe. There are places where currents, radiant sunlight, muskrat activity, wind and ice heaves make thin ice or no ice when most places on the lake are topped with 10 inches or more.

Like most lakes, the first ice and last ice of the season produces some of the fastest ice fishing action imaginable.

Put these two facts together and, as you might guess, ice fishermen taking the plunge when they unsuspectingly venture onto thin ice is a regular occurrence. Most of us who regularly fish the lake have had our turn. I have, Joe has, and for the first 50 years or so of this lake’s existence, an icy plunge was little more than something to laugh about the next day at the Post Office.

For the first 50 years or so of this lake’s existence, there was no cell phone service at the lake. One, no one thought, “If I go in, I’ll just call for help.” (Now there’s a stupid thought on many levels.) And two, when someone else went in, no one on the ice thought, “That’s bad, I’ll call 911.”

For the first 50 years, most individuals would carry ropes, ice picks, floating seat cushions or other items to help themselves or unfortunate others. When someone found the weak spot, folks would rally and have them back on solid ice in a minute or two.

In the corner of the mail room, Joe told me, “I nearly died out there. I took off my parka with my ice picks fastened onto them because I was drilling some new holes and didn’t want to overheat. I fell in and I couldn’t get a grip to pull myself up. I was yelling at the top of my lungs, I saw people look my way, but no one came over for at least 10 minutes. Finally, when they did come, they stayed back 20 yards or so and told me, “Don’t worry, buddy. We’ve called 911 and help is on the way.”

In rural areas like this, rescue squads are usually affiliated with volunteer fire departments. Ours is. Help may have been on the way, but it’s not going to arrive in a few minutes or several minutes or considerably more.

Joe told me, “When I was being stripped down and warmed up in the ambulance, one of the EMTs told me they’d received the first 911 call at 2:37 and then looked at his watch. It was exactly 3:48. I suspect I was in the water more than a half hour with nothing to keep me going other than shouts of encouragement from the onlookers and my rage and hatred towards them for not trying to help me out. I’m glad there was no one I recognized in the group.”

Cell phones and 911 service have, no doubt, saved countless lives since they were invented. But they don’t take the place of personal responsibility and common sense. It often seems that as we rely more on technology, it’s at the expense of responsibility and common sense.

Categories: Blog Content, Ice Fishing, Michigan – Mike Schoonveld

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