As part of my local fire department citizens' academy, I learned how to rescue people who have fallen through ice. I used this research in the opening scene of my first Val Ryker thriller, Pushed Too Far.
An Excerpt from Pushed Too Far:
David Lund had trained for this moment and visualized it a thousand times. But his legs still vibrated as he toed off his shoes and pushed a stocking foot into yellow rubber.
He shook the thermal suit and worked his foot deeper, finally seating it into the attached boot. Shoving his other foot home, then pulling the suit up his torso, he squinted at the skin of ice covering much of Lake Loyal.
He couldn’t see a damn thing.
Not a spot of colorful clothing, not a dark shape against the flat expanse of gray. But a police officer on a routine patrol of the park reported a woman had fallen through the ice. And she wouldn’t last long. Not in Wisconsin’s early December chill.
He had to hurry.
Activity buzzed around him, fellow firefighters, EMTs, cops yelling out orders, getting into position. They all had their role, a well-oiled machine.
He only hoped it would be enough.
Lund shimmied his shoulders into the suit, tucked in his sweatshirt, and pulled the hood over his head. The rubber was meant to fit tightly, to protect him from frigid water. Once finished dressing, he'd be encased in yellow and black, only his eyes and nose showing. He could float in the lake for hours, buoyed by the air left in the suit, his own body heat protecting him from the chill.
Of course, getting into the damn thing was a trick bordering on magic.
Dempsey and Johnson raced past, carrying the pontoon raft from Unit One to shore, their boots crunching on the frozen pea gravel path circling the lake. Wind thrashed leafless trees and spun the merry-go-round in the park, as if it were ridden by ghosts.
Lund raised the zipper as high up his chest as he could, then stuffed his arms into the sleeves.
The newest addition to the Lake Loyal PD, a part-time cop named Schoenborn, ran up the sloping shoreline toward him, her cheeks pink with the cold.
"You see her?" he asked. "I can't from here."
“You'll spot her when you get on the water. She's just on the other side of that clump of cattails. I haven’t seen her move.” Her voice soared to a higher pitch than usual, making the rookie seem even younger than Lund suspected she was.
“You the first one here?”
"Yeah." Wind tore a few dark strands from her ponytail and whipped them across her face. “After I called it in, all I could do was wait. I’ve never felt so useless in my life.”
Lund had tasted that feeling more often than he wanted to admit. He'd like to tell her it would be all right, but sometimes people couldn't be saved, no matter how much you wanted it, no matter how hard you tried. If anyone knew that, it was him.
He pushed his hands into the attached rubber mitts and eyed the cop. “If you want to feel useful, you can help zip me up.”
She sprang toward the zipper and worked on tugging and tucking until it was up to his neck.
A second later, Dempsey joined them, lending his experienced hands to the task. "Okay, let's get some of this air out, and you're good to go."
Lund crouched into a ball, the suit puffing up around him like a balloon.
The weathered firefighter patted him down, pushing out the extra air. He snugged the zipper the remaining inches over Lund’s chin, pulling the rubber hood tight around his face until only his nose and eyes were exposed to the cold. "That's as good as it's going to get."
Lund stood, the suit sucking to him like thick plastic wrap. His breath rasped in his ears, the sound magnified by the hood.
Dempsey clipped the tow rope to Lund's back, and he started down to shore feeling every ridge and bump of the frozen ground through the rubber boots, as if walking outside in socks. He stepped carefully. A tear would only slow him down, force him to start over with another suit, and he had no time to lose.
The woman couldn't last long in the freezing water. Her body would shut down, muscles refusing to move, reflexes slowing until she could no longer stay afloat and sank under the slushy waves.
But in cold water, drowning didn't necessarily mean death.
For about an hour after breathing stopped, maybe more, she could be rescued and revived without suffering brain damage. Lund wasn't sure how long the victim had been in the lake, but if there was a chance of pulling her out within that golden hour, he would grab it.
The ice rimming the lake was thick enough to support weight, and Lund skidded out to the spot where the pontoon raft rested. A tow rope connected it to the firefighters on shore, just like the one on his belt, enabling Dempsey and Johnson to tow him back once he had secured the woman to the raft.
Until then, it was up to him.
The rescue craft was made up of two foam board pontoons with an aluminum tube rail running along each. Leaning forward, he grasped the rails, stepped into the space between, and shuffled over the ice, carrying the raft as if driving Fred Flintstone's car.
Twenty feet from open water the surface started to creak beneath his feet.
He took a step, then another, his third plunged through, water over the ankle.
He lifted onto the raft, straddling the open water and bracing the outsides of his knees against the rails. The lake rolled and shifted under him, chunks of ice and swirls of water. He grabbed the paddle from its clamp and dug into the slush between bright orange pontoons, moving out into the lake.
Squinting against the wind, he could see her now, between the remnants of cattails and open water, just where the cop had indicated. Light pink jacket. Long brown hair encrusted with ice. The victim wasn’t moving--no flailing, no struggling--just lying face down in the water, bobbing with the movement of the waves.
He paddled hard, the burn settling into his arms, his shoulders. Shifting side to side, he used his weight to steer toward the woman like a kid riding a skateboard.
How much time had passed since she entered the water? What in the hell had she been doing this far out on thin ice?
Sweat slicked his back. His throat ached with the chill air, his ears, his jaw. He pushed his muscles, closing the last few yards.
A foot or two away, he fitted the paddle back into the clamps and moved to the front of the pontoons. He grabbed the nylon straps at the front of the craft with one hand and reached for the woman with the other.
His awkward, rubber mitts slipped off her head, her shoulder.
He tried again.
On his third attempt, he snagged a hank of hair and pulled her toward the craft. Scooping his hands under, he coaxed her torso to rotate.
Her face tilted skyward.
Pale skin. Blue lips. White eyes staring into the overcast sky.
Lund’s legs started to shake.
He couldn’t move. He couldn’t think. He could only stare.
His wife had died two years ago. Her body burned until there was nothing left but shattered bone and ashes.
And yet here she was, staring up at him from the icy water, her beautiful face frozen in a scream.
Pick up PUSHED TOO FAR to read the rest.