Ice Rescue!

Or 3 Lessons from a Pin-sized Hole in a Thermal Suit


1/31/20243 min read

white and grey body of water photography
white and grey body of water photography

With an average depth of six feet, Buckeye Lake can be counted on to freeze. So, part of its history and its off-season appeal even today are “at your own risk” icy adventures like ice fishing, skating, motorcycle races, and even polar plunges. I've heard so many stories of vehicles driving on the lake in winter.

If people go out on the ice and the ice doesn’t cooperate, emergencies happen. And first responders have to be ready.

That’s what drew me out to the ODNR office at Buckeye Lake State Park when I was a young reporter in the late 90s: a story about what happens when the lake is mostly frozen and stuff goes wrong. This is something rescue teams are always ready for. In fact, based on Facebook, Buckeye Lake’s Fire Department and other first responders conducted ice rescue training just two weeks ago, in advance of last Saturday’s Winterfest.

Anyway, January 1999 was very cold, and I’d been assigned to do a story specifically on ice rescue for the cover of that week’s edition. I always loved to go talk to the park officers because they were very “immersive” in their participation as sources. In the warm weather, that meant I was almost always offered a boat ride to see whatever I was writing about up close, like dredge islands or dock/dam projects.

But I didn’t appreciate the concept of immersion until after then-manager Ed Frank finished outlining all the ways his team prepared for emergencies.

“I don’t think you’ll really be able to write this story unless you get in the water,” he said.

“Ha ha. Very funny. It’s frozen over.”

“Not all the way. That's when it's really dangerous. Besides, we have a gumby suit right in the back room there for the kinds of rescues you’re writing about. It will make your story better, and I think the suit will fit you fine.”

It did fit fine. And it’s not in my nature to turn down new experiences. In retrospect, were they hazing The Beacon’s newest reporter? Maybe. It was my first winter in my first job after college. Ed and two others bundled up and escorted me out on the ice, to a hole where the water sat looking exceedingly unthreatening below. I contemplated it for some time.

“Just take a hop right in. You won’t even know you’re in cold water, I promise.”

He was right. Or, he would have been right. Those neoprene gumby suits are thermally insulated within and can be worn for hours and hours in freezing conditions (like ice rescue scenarios). Of course, the insulation is less effective when there’s a previously undetected hole in the seam.


“You’re doing great!”

“Ed, water is coming in where my armpit is, and it is very, very, very cold.”

The ODNR team exchanged looks. They made immediate arrangements to extricate me from the water, which is even less dignified than anything you might be imagining, I can assure you.

“It’s a good thing we found out about that now,” one of them said as I shivered back in the office, facing an evening town council meeting in a turtleneck sweater caked in slush.

“Anything I can do to help.”

Here are the lessons: 1) Rescue teams/first responders are really well-trained and react quickly when someone is in danger (i.e., I highly recommend having them standing nearby if you suspect you’re going to accidentally flirt with hypothermia). 2) Seriously, be careful messing around on frozen lakes. Putting those responders in a dangerous situation is not cool. Them putting you in such a situation is still not cool but is much funnier. 3) The hole in the armpit of that gumby suit was small enough to be invisible to the naked eye, proving … well … you never know.

That’s the whole take-away. The lake may not be very deep, but I can be.


Check out historic winter photos of ice cutting and more from the lake at Buckeye Lake Historical Society’s Facebook page:


Kim Garee is a school librarian and former reporter whose first book, Pressed Together, is set in 1946 Buckeye Lake and comes out May 1. Please subscribe below for updates about that!