Montgomery Co. fire official warns residents not to venture onto frozen ponds, lakes

With temperatures plummeting below 20 degrees in recent days, some ponds and standing bodies of water are freezing over. But one Montgomery County fire and rescue official said it’s never safe to go out onto frozen water.

Pete Piringer with Montgomery County Fire and Rescue said it takes a few inches of frozen water across the entire body of water to make it safe to support people. He said he doesn’t see that happening in the D.C. region.

“It’s impossible to judge the strength of the ice just by the appearance,” Piringer said. “The only truly safe ice is in an ice rink.”

Still, people — and animals — find their way onto the ice every year. Piringer said while his department hasn’t gotten any calls this year for anyone falling into cold water, it has happened. He said people also need to be conscious of their pets if they live near a body of water.

“It’s not unusual for us to go pluck a deer out a middle of a pond somewhere, or a family pet of some sort,” Piringer said. “And, on occasion, unfortunately, we do have people that go into the water. It’s still in recent memory where we’ve had some drownings, where people have gone in cold water.”

He said cold water drains away body heat 25 to 30 times faster than cold air. Heavy winter clothing like coats and boots can also weigh someone down and make it harder to recover after falling into cold water.

“It really could be problematic,” Piringer said. “Physiologically you can’t operate and save yourself in some cases. The lower the temperature of the water, faster the onset of hypothermia.”

If someone does go into the water, Piringer said it’s important to act quickly and call 911, but don’t go onto the ice or into the water after them. Montgomery County rescuers preach “reach, throw and row,” — meaning try to reach out a branch or some rope to anyone in the water, throw a buoyant object to them or row to them inside a boat.

In almost all circumstances, only properly trained and equipped rescue personnel should try to rescue someone in freezing water, according to Piringer.

“Many times would-be rescuers become victims themselves,” he said.

Thomas Robertson

Thomas Robertson is an Associate Producer and Web Writer/Editor at WTOP. After graduating in 2019 from James Madison University, Thomas moved away from Virginia for the first time in his life to cover the local government beat for a small daily newspaper in Zanesville, Ohio.

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