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FD rescues skater who fell through ice

Oxford resident Larry Jansen (center) thanks Fire Lt. Brad Horton (left) and Firefighter Justin Templeton for saving his life after he fell through the ice on Eden Lake last week. (click for larger version)
February 15, 2012 - A 62-year-old Oxford man is fortunate to be alive thanks to the community's highly-trained fire department.

A pleasant morning skate around the frozen Eden Lake – located between Watersedge Ct. and Island Lake Dr. in the Waterstone development – turned into a harrowing experience when Larry Jansen fell through the ice.

Jansen, who's lived here a little more than 10 years, had skated in a northward direction, approximately 1,500 to 2,000 feet away from the shoreline of his Island Lake Dr. home, located on the lake's south side.

"I turned around to take a picture of my house and all of the sudden, the ice just gave way and I got wet," Jansen said.

Fortunately, Jansen had the presence of mind to extend his arms and grab the surrounding ice, so he didn't fall through to the point where his head went below the water.

"I caught myself on the edge of the ice," he said.

He was, however, unable to free himself, so most of his body remained submerged in the icy water. When he started out, the water was up to his neck, but he managed get situated to where it was up to his chest.

"Because of the weight of the snow pants and the skates, I couldn't get my leg (up and) over the lip of the ice," Jansen said. "So, I just kind of held on for a while and thought it over. A neighbor came out and said she was going to call for help. When I heard the sirens, there was really not a need for me to keep trying (to free myself) because the real help was on the way – and they were terrific."

Jansen was trapped about 125 feet from the northern shore of the lake off Watersedge Ct.

Some workers doing a job at a nearby home spotted him and attempted their own rescue using a boat.

"They could only make it about 15 feet from shore because the boat kept breaking through the ice," said Fire Chief Pete Scholz. "They couldn't go any farther."

The workers then attempted to slide some boards out to the victim, but he was too far away, according Scholz.

Donning cold water rescue suits, two Oxford firefighters, Lt. Brad Horton and Firefighter/Paramedic Justin Templeton, went out to retrieve the victim, which wasn't an easy task.

"There was water showing all the way around the edge of the ice," Scholz said. "They actually had to step into the water to get onto the ice. As soon as they got on the ice, they immediately broke through.

"For the rest of the way out there, they were crawling on their stomachs, but (the ice) kept breaking, so they in essence, ended up breaking their way through the ice all the way out there – half-swimming and half-breaking the ice."

When the firefighters reached the victim, they placed a floatation device around him. Fire personnel stationed on land, then pulled them all back to shore using a safety line.

"He was conscious and talking to us the whole time," Scholz said. "We treated him on-scene for hypothermia and then went ahead and transported him to the hospital."

A firefighter who serves on the department's dive rescue team was suited up on shore, ready to go in if the victim had gone under.

"The guys who came out to help me were great," Jansen said. "The operation was just very efficient. The ladies in the ambulance just seemed to be so prepared. I really was never apprehensive. They were just very, very helpful."

Scholz noted that despite the difficulties his crew encountered, it was a fast save.

The department received the call at 11:19 a.m., arrived on scene at 11:21 a.m. and had the victim on shore by 11:31 a.m.

"It didn't take them long," Jansen said.

Scholz indicated the ice "definitely" was not safe that day. He advised everyone in the area to "stay off the ice" right now.

That means no ice skating, no ice-fishing, no ice-related activities, period.

"It's been such a strange winter with all the freeze-and-thaw cycles that we've had and all the warm weather," Scholz said. "We really haven't had the (sustained) zero-degree temperatures yet to freeze (the lakes) up good. All the rainfall we've had just continues to melt the ice that we do get."

Jansen noted the ice was "all right" on his side (the south side) of the lake when he started skating. "I've skated on that lake every winter," he said.

However, this incident has taught him that he "can't trust my side to be representative of the whole lake."

"I didn't realize how thin the other side was," Jansen said. "It was just looked like a sheen of ice. I anticipated the other side would be the same as my side and it wasn't."

In the future, he plans to more thoroughly investigate the whole lake ice before he ventures out.

Along with his gratitude, Jansen also wished to extend an apology to the fire department. "They had to go out on a limb for me and it shouldn't have happened," he said. "I should have had better judgment. I guess I want to apologize for having poor judgment."

For anyone reading this story who ever finds him or herself in a similar situation, Jansen said, "The best advice is don't panic."

"Take a look around and assess things before you chart a plan of action," he said. "If help is on the way, wait for the help because they know what they're doing."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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