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Firefighters ready for ice rescues

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BIG ARM — The sun filtered through winter haze as volunteer firefighters bobbed about in a square of water cut through the ice of Flathead Lake Saturday morning.

Wearing buoyant suits, a dozen members of the Polson Rural Fire Department put into action the lifesaving ice rescue techniques they learned in the classroom.

“The equipment doesn’t do any good just sitting there, we have to know how to use it,” said Drew Hoel, PRFD fire captain and certified ice rescue instructor.

Saturday’s ice rescue training off the dock at the Big Arm unit of Flathead State Park was a refresher course for some, and a first-time event for others.

Caleb DesJarlais joined the volunteer firefighting team just two weeks ago, and participated in the training, learning how to safely pull a stranded person or animal from the frigid water.

“It was awesome,” he said. “It’s fun to (train) but it’s a serious situation if you really need it.”

Two new suits were recently purchased from funds garnered through a recent fundraising letter campaign. Those suits will remain in the Big Arm station of PRFD, allowing faster access to a lake emergency.

“When you’re dealing with hypothermia, seconds count, not minutes,” Hoel said. The Rural Fire Department currently has 36 trained volunteer firefighters, and handled 223 calls in 2016.

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