Be careful skating on Missouri ice

The following first appeared in the Tribune on Jan. 15, 2001.

Let's face it -- people drown in winter. Several years ago, six Missouri children died when they went through the ice in three separate accidents. Two drowned while trying to rescue other children, and none had adult supervision.

Children, farmers, hunters and animals walk ice that will not support them and are plunged into icy water.

Before I had skates, I often played on small, shallow water holes that were frozen solid. Later, I sometimes marked off a skating area, along the shore of our large pond where my children and I skated over shallow water. We set gallon plastic jugs, half full of water, on the ice to mark safe boundaries when melting had begun.

Missouri, a middle state, is in the danger zone for ice accidents. In Northern states, ice skating lasts all winter. Many Southerners have never enjoyed skating by the light of the moon or underneath the black, star-studded planetarium over a lake. But in the middle states, we might skate safely today and break though that same ice a day or two later.

Even thick ice might be unsafe when it's melting. When warm sunshine hits ice for several days, it will be watery on top and "spongy" under foot. If the ice's surface develops tiny hexagon-shaped marks, the ice is melting vertically and could be hazardous.

If the ice is chopped, instead of ice chips there might be slender pencil-like pieces. Beware! Quickly get off spongy, hexagon-marked, rotten ice. Huge sections of ice go under water without warning.

We fished in Lake Michigan where fishermen built shanties over their fishing holes, and some drove their trucks out on the ice. Several shanties and a few trucks and fishermen were lost when melting broke off huge areas of rotten ice.

If you're at a skating party and someone accidentally falls into icy water, shout, "Help! George, call 911! Ralph, call the fire department! Tom, get everybody off the ice! Joe, bring your spare tire!" You might need to be on a wide piece of plywood, a wooden ladder, a boat -- something to help spread your weight on thin ice.

The victim cannot climb out because the ice keeps breaking under his or her weight. An aired-up spare tire floats well enough for several people to hang onto.

Roll a wheel out, but get belly down, and slide it when you're near the hole to within the victim's reach. If a skater in deep water is drowning, he will "grab for a straw."

He can likely squirm, belly down, onto firm ice if he kicks his feet up to the surface and pulls on the wheel you are holding. When you get to firm ice, roll to your backs and dig the heels of your skates into the ice to scoot to safety. Of course, you will be pulling Joe's spare wheel.

An unconscious, non-breathing victim, brought out of the hole, has only a few minutes to live. Think, "he's choking on water," and begin the Heimlich maneuver immediately with the victim on his back; keep giving abdominal thrusts as long as water comes flushing out of his mouth.

Do not use CPR for people who have apparently drowned. Use the Heimlich maneuver. You cannot force air into water-filled lungs.

How can you skate more safely in Missouri? Beware of thawing ice, and prepare for rescue by taking rope, blankets, portable telephones and a spare tire.

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