Chief: Don't 'end up in the lake'

Cary Ashby • Updated Jan 26, 2019 at 8:08 AM

Norwalk Fire Chief John Soisson has a two-fold message for people this time of year: Ice and roads with high water are dangerous situations.

“Be very careful of standing water. Standing water is very dangerous; you can’t drive through it. We have seen tragic events that have happened that way,” he said. 

In late February 2011, a Volkswagen Beatle being driven by Lisa Roswell was swept off South Norwalk Road into the Huron River. The car sank, and Roswell, 51, of North Fairfield, drowned.

Over the years, other area motorists have been rescued from flooded roads.

“The second thing is ice and we’ve had some close calls,” Soisson said. “A community to the west of us just had a drowning.”

Soisson was referring to the death of Matthew McCabe, a 43-year-old Fremont man who died Sunday after the utility vehicle, on which he was a passenger, crashed through a frozen pond in Sandusky County’s Ballville Township.

Since the city of Norwalk puts out flood alerts, Soisson said residents should have plenty of warning when there is a flooding or high-water situation.

“In January, February, March and even into April, we have these influxes of cold, heavy snows and then rain,” the chief added. “Ditches can fill (with water). If someone goes off the road into a ditch, we can have a serious problem.”

Firefighters have responded to situations in which someone fell into icy waters while attempting to rescue a child or pet.

“When your animals go out on the ice and people go out to rescue them, then we gotta get them out of the ice. Hypothermia sets in quickly, so your window of rescue is small and the best thing we can do is be proactive and keep you off (the ice),” Soisson said.

First responders offered safety advice for people who try to rescue someone trapped in the water.

“There’s no dad in the world (who) is going to leave his kid out in the water. So if a dad is gonna go out there, he needs to get wide; don’t go out standing up,” Lt. Jeff Phillips said. “(Getting wide) means lay down on the ice.”

Phillips said the danger of standing on ice is the person’s weight puts stress on the surface in a small area, which could cause the ice to break and the person to fall into the water.

The lieutenant shared news footage with the Reflector of a man who fell into icy water and the people who walked over to help him also fell in. Nearly 12 people were in the water; everyone made it out.

“We don’t want people to go out after them,” Phillips said.

People attempting a water rescue before fighters arrive need to stay low on the ice and find a sturdy branch, stick or preferably, a rope, to reach the trapped person.

“They are more or less are going to be an anchor (for) that person,” said Phillips, who added the longer the rope is, the better.

“When they are out of the water, they (need to) log-roll to solid ground,” firefighter Ryan Houghtlen added.

Soisson stressed that being on ice is dangerous.

“The important thing for people to know is ice is not safe and unless we know there is 4 inches — which I believe they say is (the minimum) for a person — no ice is safe unless it’s been a frozen tundra there for a while,” the chief said.

“We have a beautiful facility at the reservoir; it’s great to see how many people enjoy it. … We just want people to be cautious. My message as chief and from a safety perspective is don’t put yourself in a position that you can end up in the lake.”


More winter safety 

Plowed roads means snow accumulates near fire hydrants.

“We ask you to dig out the hydrants,” Soisson said. “We try to have hydrants every 400 feet, so it’s important for us to secure a water supply when we’re doing fire operations. If we have to dig out the hydrant to get to it, now you’re talking a delay in actually getting sufficient water to put out the fire.

“So if people can help us out, we would greatly appreciate it,” he added. “I don’t think we’ve ever identified it by ordinance of whose it is; we just ask for all the help we can get. We don’t have the personnel to go out and dig them out.”

Drainage into grates is important as snow melts.

“The water department and the street department do a great job keeping everything in good repair; we just need everybody to be diligent and think of stuff ahead,” Soisson said.

Another thing for residents to remember is keep the space near the exhausts for furnaces clear of blowing and drifting snow.

“There should be safety devices in the new furnaces, but you can’t trust them. Carbon monoxide can build up in a house. Everybody should have a carbon monoxide detector in their house,” Soisson said. “You need to make sure that the exhaust for any of your gas appliances is free for exhaust into the atmosphere.”

When buying a carbon monoxide detector, look for a LED display.

“The ones that go off, we don’t know if we have 10 parts per million or 200 parts per million. Now we have monitors that will check that, but as a resident you can be a little more aware of how big the problem is based on the numerical value of the parts per million,” Soisson said.


Safety tips for water rescue

• Rescuers shouldn’t stand up; approach the trapped person or pet by lying on the ice.

• Find a long rope to throw to the person. If a rope isn’t available, use a sturdy branch or limb.

• Once out of the water, people should “log-roll” on the ice until they reach solid ground.

Source: Norwalk Fire Department

Norwalk Reflector Videos