The City of Grande Prairie is urging residents to stay off of its storm ponds. While they may look frozen, Transportation Services Manager Robert Carroll says their thickness can vary drastically from one spot to another due to the location of storm pipes.
“This results in very unstable ice formations that present a risk to even walk on, without a monitoring program to measure ice thickness. City storm water ponds were never designed to be used for recreational activities.”
The City has found multiple “unauthorized rinks” on storm ponds, including some that appear to have been driven on by ATVs and small tractors. Any nets, boards or benches at any of the storm ponds will be removed by the Grande Prairie Fire Department.
In addition to the skating pond at Muskoseepi Park, the City maintains 10 outdoor rinks, and volunteers take care of 25 others. All city-run rinks are currently closed due to unsafe ice conditions.
Deputy Fire Chief of Operations for the County of Grande Prairie Bart Johnson says that while ice may have formed on some bodies of water in the region, people should never go out on moving water like rivers and streams. He explains that one can never be certain how thick the ice is.
“While it can look solid in a lot of places, particularly where the current isn’t flowing, moving water doesn’t freeze. People have to be very, very careful about being on moving water… there’s generally going to be always place where the water is not frozen.”
He adds quads, snowmobiles, or even body weight could could be enough to break through the top layer of ice. If someone goes through the ice, they could get trapped underneath.
In icy temperatures, hypothermia sets in quickly and people can lose muscle control and consciousness in a matter of minutes. If someone sees someone fall through the ice and into the water, Johnson urges them to call 9-1-1.
“Keep your eyes on the spot. Don’t go out on the ice to try to rescue them; chances are we will have multiple people to rescue if you do. Stay focused on where they went in to the water and wait for the fire service to come and rescue the people who have gone through the ice.”
County firefighters go through ice rescue training annually, and have specialized suits and equipment for that purpose. However, Johnson says they’d rather not have to use them.