Capt. Graham Gowe of Penticton Fire Rescue is the “victim” in this ice rescue scenario and is being helped by fellow firefighter Erik Jorgensen.

Taking the plunge: Penticton fire department practices ice rescues

Penticton Fire Rescue dives into training mode on Okanagan Lake

The scenario that unfolded at the marina on Okanagan Lake last week was that of two people who had fallen through the thin ice with only limited time for rescue before suffering hypothermia.

One by one members of the Penticton Fire Department managed to pull the people out of the water, along the ice to safety.

In this case the two “victims” were actually off-duty members of the fire department taking part in ice rescue training program that was overseen on by firefighter/instructor Erik Jorgensen.

This was the second session this month.

“We’ve got good conditions and we’re just taking advantage at the marina for ice and to train our ice rescue teams,” said Jorgensen, who was working with firefighters Capt. Graham Gowe, Mike Sutherland and Wes Swaren.

This was the second ice rescue training this month, the other taking place the first week in January.

“We’re working in just minimal ice conditions, about one inch, that’s breaking very easily on us so it gives us a good opportunity to train for self-rescue and train for patient rescues as well,” said Jorgensen.

As well as using live “patients” crews also train with the department’s dead weight dummies. The patient rescue is so they are able to help others, such as those who go out onto frozen surfaces for recreation, including snowmobilers and ice fishers.

The self-rescue portion of the ice rescue technician program is a critical component for emergency personnel like firefighters who in the line of work may have to go out onto the ice during the course of their duties.

Related: Firefighters on thin ice

There are also cases like the one last January where on Skaha Lake near Okanagan Falls where a deer had fallen through the ice and Penticton Fire Department was called. In that case the deer was able to free itself and the concern was more for the members of the public that had wanted to help. In Dec. 2015, members of the Oliver Fire Department were forced to rescue a teenager who had fallen through the ice on Tuc-El-Nuit Lake.

In addition to Penticton Fire Department, members of the volunteer Penticton and District Search and Rescue have similar training in flat ice rescue.


Penticton firefighter Erik Jorgensen helps “victim” to more solid ice with the help of a rope line. Mark Brett/Western News

Capt. Graham Gowe (at right) pulls the rescuer and a “victim” to safety during Penticton Fire Department ice rescue training in the frozen waters of the Okanagan Lake marina.

Standing on thin ice, firefighters prepare for their next ice rescue training session.

Firefighter Mike Sutherland takes the plunge into the icy Okanagan Lake waters. Mark Brett/Western News

Mike Sutherland (left) and Wes Swaren hit the water after breaking through the ice. Mark Brett/Western News

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