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Winter has made its appearance in Massachusetts, but the variable temperatures that have been experienced in the state so far this season mean the condition of ice on the Bay State's water bodies is unpredictable and could be treacherous. There have already been several instances in the state where people have fallen through the ice. The Division of Fisheries & Wildlife urges outdoor enthusiasts to play it safe and check ice carefully before venturing onto ice-covered waters. Foot traffic on a layer of¯ ice is a good safe thickness. An ice strength table is posted on the agency website at: www.mass.gov/dfwele/dfw/recreation/ice_safety.htm.

How can you tell if ice is safe? There are no guarantees -- always consider ice potentially dangerous. Assess ice safety by using an ice chisel to chop a hole in the ice to determine its thickness and condition. Make sure you continue to do this as you go further out on to the ice, because the thickness of the ice will not be uniform all over the pond or lake. Be aware that ice tends to be thinner on lakes and ponds where there are spring holes, inlets or outlets. Don't venture on to ice bound rivers or streams because the currents make ice thickness unpredictable.

What if you fall through the ice? As with any emergency, don't panic! Briefly call for help. It doesn't take long for the cold water to start slowing your physical and mental functions, so you must act quickly. Air will remain trapped in your clothes for a short time, aiding your buoyancy. Kick your legs while grasping for firm ice. Try to pull your body up using "ice pins" that should be hanging around your neck. Once your torso is on firm ice, roll towards thicker ice. This will better distribute your weight. Remember that ice you have previously walked on should be the safest. After you reach safe ice, don't waste precious time because you need to warm up quickly to prevent hypothermia. Go to the nearest fishing shanty, warm car, or house.  Don't drive home in wet clothes!

If a companion falls through the ice remember the phrase "Reach-Throw-Go." If you are unable to reach your friend, throw him or her a rope, jumper cables, tree branch, or other object. If this does not work, go for help before you also become a victim.

Pet owners should keep pets on a leash.  If a pet falls through the ice do not attempt to rescue the pet, go for help. Well meaning pet owners can too easily become victims themselves when trying to save their pets.

For other cold and winter weather related preparedness tips, check the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency website at www.mass.gov/eops.


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