Firefighters practice for when hell freezes over

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:57

    MONROE-It's Sunday morning. It's cold and the forecast is calling for snow later, possibly up to eight inches. The frozen lake acts like a thermometer by letting all know that the air around them is below freezing. And last Sunday morning, members of the Monroe Fire Department were inside Pine Tree Lake and in that water. The 20 or so Monroe firefighters were joined by eight of their "brothers" from the Congers Volunteer Fire Department in Rockland County. The drill was a learning experience for both fire departments and they taught each other different methods of ice-water rescue. Some of the firefighters who served as "victims" dressed in scuba suits and then slowly went out onto the ice and into a man-made hole of ice-cold water. The drill was to "rescue" the people who acted as if they had fallen in the water while walking on the ice. One firefighter geared up, putting on his suit while being tied to a rope, tightly held by others of the department. Out he went onto the frozen lake, sliding out where in the summer, children play and swim. Today, there are no children and there is no swimming. This is "real," the chiefs reminded their men, looking to treat this scenario as if life depended upon their actions. In a "real" case, though, the person in the water would be desperate and frantic to reach the hand of a firefighter to pull them to safety. But it was also real because, as Dale Forsberg said, "Monroe has 13 lakes and ponds. This can happen at any time." He was a volunteer firefighter with the Congers Department for 23 years. For the past year in half, he has been with the Monroe Fire Department, serving as corresponding secretary. On this cold morning, Forsberg looks out onto the lake, as the younger men practice the drill. He looks on as the younger generation, even some high-school age kids, learn how to do something which many one day save a life, even his. Meanwhile, Assistant Chief Steve Maneri dresses in and out of his rescue gear, going on the ice and practicing himself, while teaching others. "I learn something every call I go to," he said, another veteran of more than 20 years of fighting fires and rescuing people. Maneri's partner in the exercise is another assistant chief, Vini Tankasali. He's staying dry - he' is taking the department's pictures of the drill. Or perhaps, he has to stay dry, in case duty calls and the citizens of Monroe need his help. Standing on the right of the lake is Congers Chief Ken Kunz, who watches his men as they slide down the ice and toward the man who is depending on them to save him from the bone-chilling water. "A few years ago we had an actual rescue like this," Kunz said. The rescue was "a successful mission," as Kunz described it, because his firefighters were prepared through similar training exercises. "Today we've learned different techniques to help us in rescues," Kunz added. "The Monroe Fire Department came down to us last month to learn our techniques. We came to learn theirs today. Now the two departments have learned different techniques." The differences between the two departments involve different approaches and equipment. After about two hours of training, the men began get out of their gear and pack all the equipment. But then there was a noise, a noise that many Monroe-area residents hear quite often. The fire siren blared. There was an emergency. The firefighters were needed. The men from the two departments cut short their good-byes. They understood. That's why they were up on a Sunday morning in the dead of winter and went inside a frozen lake. One... Two... Three... They passed in their trucks, their sirens blaring.