ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — Crews at the Maryland Heights Fire Protection District picked the perfect day to train for an icy water rescue at Creve Couer Lake Park.
The sun was shining over the melting snow, and the lake was still partially frozen over. There’s only a small window each year they can train on real ice because well, Missouri weather.
As they wrapped up their training Tuesday, they realized why it really was a perfect day for training.
“I looked over and saw two people running and I turned to chief, and I said hey chief, and I kind of pointed in that direction,” Jan Muschany, Maryland Heights Fire Protection District’s deputy chief medical officer said.
“I glanced over and thought, ‘Yeah, that’s just an accident waiting to happen. And the minute I thought that, they dropped through the ice,” said Steve Rinehart, assistant chief of the Maryland Heights Fire Protection District.
Every single person training switched gears immediately.”We went from a training mode to a rescue mode,” Rinehart added.
Crews moved the fire trucks to get as close as possible to the two teens in the water. Muschany took over as commander and made sure all operations were running exactly how they had just trained moments before. Crews got back into their rescue gear and jumped into action.
“Luckily, we had a drone operator on scene, he deployed the drone immediately, so he could get eyes on the victim and monitor their status,” Herman said.
As the drone flew above, you could see two people in the water, struggling. There was also a hat on the ice, and crews thought there might have been a third victim. Thankfully, they confirmed it wasn’t another person.
“We were very limited because we only had one company there, but we had to react,” Rinehart added.
A normal response from the fire station to Creve Couer Lake Park would have taken about three to four minutes, this one, took just seconds and that could have been the saving grace for these two teens.
“We don’t have a lot of time, by the time we got out there… they were already losing their dexterity; they weren’t able to grab onto anything,” David Herman, a firefighter and paramedic, and one of the men who rescued the teens, said.
The ice was so thin it was breaking underneath the first responders.
“This is why we come out and train every year,” Jon Krueger, a firefighter and EMT with the district, who helped in the rescue said. “They have no traction, so they’re relying on people on the shore to pull them in.”
Meanwhile, rescue crews have just one message: “Stay off the ice, it’s that simple.”