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    Fort McCoy firefighters hold ice rescue diving training at frozen-over installation lake

    Fort McCoy firefighters hold ice rescue diving training at frozen-over installation lake

    Photo By Scott Sturkol | A firefighter with the Directorate of Emergency Services Fire Department dive team...... read more read more

    One by one, firefighters donned their dry suits and diving equipment and slipped below the ice of Big Sandy Lake on Jan. 11 to practice rescuing a victim during ice rescue training for the Fort McCoy Directorate of Emergency Services Fire Department dive team.

    Members of fire department’s dive team spent most of the day at the lake practicing various scenarios and honing their ice diving skills as part of an annual requirement to not only refresh skills but also maintain certifications, said Assistant Fire Chief Hunter Young. He said it’s especially important for each member of the dive team to maintain their readiness, especially if the team is called for a real-world response.

    Young explained the main scenario they practiced for each diver.

    “We were doing (a scenario) that has a fisherman who has fallen through the ice,” Young said. “The first team we have that goes out is going to rescue the fisherman through a surface rescue, and then the fisherman is relays back that his partner has went under water. From there we activate a dive team. The dive team then gets ready, goes in, and finds the second victim.”

    Young also explained why it’s important to practice and maintain these skills every year.

    “It’s a very technical skill,” Young said. “It can be claustrophobic under the ice, so they’re learning to be comfortable down there. They can have very low visibility under the ice once the mud gets stirred up, so it’s a great thing to get out here and practice and make sure you’re comfortable when the time comes to have to do your job.”

    Firefighter Brandon Perron was one of the divers who practiced the scenario Jan. 11 at the lake. He said the training was a great experience, and that being part of the dive team has special importance to the area around Fort McCoy.

    “It’s a big importance in our area in particular in that we don’t have (any other) really defined dive teams in our area,” Perron said. “Our department having this capability allows us to go anywhere in the Monroe County area to go and help the local communities that don’t have this capability and to be able to be there as quickly as possible to get under the water to help people.”

    Perron said he’s been a part of the dive team for several years.

    “Being put right into the dive team was something I was interested in beforehand, and they gave me the opportunity, and I took it,” Perron said. “I love it. …I’m liking the opportunity to see the different fish, wildlife, and everything like that on our fun training dives. … And diving under the ice is something very unique.”

    Perron described what an “under ice” dive might feel like.

    “It’s unique in the fact that you know you don’t have open water to go up to,” Perron said. “You must go through the same hole that you came into, so it’s nerve-racking the first time you do it, and once you get used to it, it makes it a lot easier. But yeah, you know that there’s nothing above you other than that rope that’s holding you down, and you have to hope that your team behind you is good, and all your guys are really well-trained and really well-equipped to do this.”

    Perron also discussed the importance of the constant radio communication the team has during each dive.

    “It’s very important,” Perron said. “Both of our divers — the backup diver and the diver who goes under are tethered together — different ropes obviously. But they're tethered together with communication. So, all three of us, the person on top who’s holding our ropes, plus myself, and the other diver are able to talk to each other and communicate. We know if anything is going wrong with a person under the water to get the other diver in as quick as possible. We're always communicating. And that’s why this is great training and a great opportunity to practice all of that.”

    In the past years, the Fort McCoy dive team has assisted in numerous real-world ice rescue calls through mutual aid support. Young said through this training, they’ll remain ready for future calls.

    “I think there's no other dive team in Monroe County right now, so we’ll help anybody out who needs help there,” Young said. “We have some good mutual aid partners who we work with regularly.”

    Jeff Zilliox with the Marineland Dive Center of Onalaska, Wis., was also on hand for the training. Zilliox has been a primary instructor and supporter of the Fort McCoy dive team for several years, and he’s an experienced diver who has been training recreational and public safety divers for more than 30 years. He explained why this training is important.

    “We were preparing the divers for ice diving and ice rescue and recoveries,” Zilliox said. “This training gets them used to being under the ice. It’s a little bit different environment with the ice overhead.”

    Fort McCoy’s motto is to be the “Total Force Training Center.”

    Located in the heart of the upper Midwest, Fort McCoy is the only U.S. Army installation in Wisconsin.

    The installation has provided support and facilities for the field and classroom training of more than 100,000 military personnel from all services nearly every year since 1984.

    Learn more about Fort McCoy online at, on the Defense Visual Information Distribution System at, on Facebook by searching “ftmccoy,” and on Twitter by searching “usagmccoy.”



    Date Taken: 01.17.2023
    Date Posted: 01.17.2023 17:52
    Story ID: 436852
    Location: FORT MCCOY, WI, US 

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