Serving the Rescue Community Since 1994


Ice and Cold Water Rescue 

PURPOSE: To establish guidelines and procedures for the safe and efficient conduct of ice and cold water rescue operations.

SCOPE: These procedures and guidelines will be used during and cold water or ice rescue operation within the department’s response area and on mutual aid calls to other departments.

PROCDEDURE: Upon receipt of an alarm for a cold water or ice rescue emergency, the department will respond with all available resources, including personnel, cold water rescue suits, water rescue rope and the Rescue Alive Sled with Water Rescue Jaws attached.

1. The senior officer or member on the scene will establish Incident Command (IC). The incident commander on the scene is responsible for the following actions.

a. Determine the number of victims, their condition and their last known location if they cannot be seen from shore.
b. Notify your dispatch center to establish radio control and the location of the command post.

2. Your communications center should notify the following immediately:

a. Notify mutual aid departments with special consideration given to those with equipment and training in cold water and ice resuce.
b. Local ambulance service and Advanced Life Support Personnel.
c. Nearest Hospital and the nearest Trauma Center with Life Flight capability.
d. Local police for crowd and traffic control.
e. Local or mutual aid dive teams.
f. Any local Ranger or Warden services with dive teams or equipment.
g. Any other services determined by the IC.

The IC will continue to direct the operation of local and mutual aid companies until relieved by a competent authority.

3. Safety of all personnel responding to the scene will be paramount.

Safety procedures will include by are not limited to the following:

a. These procedures are for the safety and protection of human life. Animal rescues are at the discretion of the IC and should only be attempted if the safety of rescuers can be assured. A Dog snare should be used.
b. All operations will be performed by trained personnel who are familiar with and physically capable of performing duties and tasks required.
c. Primary rescuers and back up personnel will be equipped with colder water rescue and or immersion suits. Whenever possible the primary rescuer using “Rescue Alive” should be equipped with the Sterns I-595 Ice Rescue Suit or equivalent and helmet. Back up personnel should wear I-595 type suits or immersion (gumby type) suits if I-595 suits are not available. Primary rescuer using Rescue Alive should leave hood down and wear helmet. This enhances hearing and protects head from injury.
d. All personnel working on shore within 15 feet of the water should be equipped with a type III USCG approved PFD.
e. Tether lines will be attached to the front D ring harness of the Ice Rescue Suit of all personnel engaged in GO or CONTACT rescues. Appropriate shore crew will control tether lines and ensure that ropes, carabiners, zippers are good to go.
f. Tethering procedures for Rescue Alive will include of one red rope (minimum tensile strength of 2000 lbs) attached to the front “D” ring of the Ice Rescue Suit. Use the simple rhyme “Red To The Sled”. This is called the TWO line system. When it is necessary to travel further than the two line system will allow you must connect the two lines together with a carabiner and one end to the sled with a carabiner. A separate length of rope may be used with a loop on each end to tether the rescuer to the sled or by measuring approx. on arms length and a half from the end of the rope, place a loop at that point and using a carabiner attach that loop to the tether hitch of the sled. The end of the rope now attaches to the front “D” ring of the Ice Rescue Suit. This method tethers both the rescuer and the sled to the shore. This method is referred to as the ONE line system.
g. Primary and back up rescuers should be equipped with “Pick of Life” ice awls for their own use or for use by the victim.
h. Each person involved in the rescue operation should have a back up person to take over if needed.
i. Rest and medical monitoring of all personnel in a warm vehicle or shelter should be provided at regular intervals. The EMS team leader or safety officer will declare any rescuer unfit to continue and will notify the IC.
j. Adequate lighting and flashlights capable of hands free operations should be available for night operations.
k. Shore crew should obtain a water sample at the scene. This sample will be transported to the medical facility with the victim for possible evaluation by medical personnel.

4. Initial response of fire & rescue personnel will include the vehicle carrying “Rescue Alive” and all associated equipment followed by at least one vehicle for lighting and support functions. Two personnel are required for the safe use of “Rescue Alive”. However when it is possible a minimum of 10 (ten) personnel should be utilized for optimum safety as follows: INCIDENT COMMANDER, SAFETY OFFICER, PRIMARY RESCURER, SECONDARY RESCURER, TWO MAN BACKUP TEAM, FOUR MAN SHORE CREW.

At no time will any team member attempt a GO or CONTACT rescue without proper backup, a cold water suit and tether line to shore.


Keep communicating with the victim throughout the attempt. Your first question must be: "ARE YOU ALONE?"

Regardless of training or equipment each rescuer must be prepared to deal with a personal emergency…



2. Ice Rescue Suits..minimum of 2 for primary & backup rescuer

3. Water Rescue Jaws

4. Water Rescue Rope..enough to cover your response areas (min 2 X 300 feet)

5. Carabiners 2 per length of rope plus extras.

6. Pick of Life..1 set per rescuer at a minimum

7. Water Rescue Helmets..1 for primary and 1 for secondary rescuer

8. PFDs..enough for shore crew, safety officer and IC’

9. Water proof gloves..for shore crew and rope handlers

10. Water sample sample for possible medical evaluation

11. Lighting..for scene and personal use.

12. Throw Bags..1 for primary and 1 for secondary rescuers

13. Stokes Basket or Backboard

14. Ice Screws.. for tethering personnel or equipment on safe ice

15. Dog Snare..Never make physical contact with the animal and never leave the safety of the Rescue Alive platform in animal rescues

This is a minimum list of equipment needed to perform a safe rescue. There is no substitute for training in a variety of ice conditions and proper pre planning. RESCUE ALIVE is only a tool and will perform as well as the personnel that are trained in its use. These SOG’s are provided so that you may use them as an outline for your own department and are not intended to replace your own SOG’s and proper training.




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Standard Operating Guidelines (SOGs)