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River rescue prompts winter water warning from fire officials

Following the rescue of stranded boaters on the Smoky River where it meets the Wapiti River, County of Grande Prairie Fire Department officials are reminding the public about the dangers on local rivers as winter weather continues to worsen ice conditions.

Fire Chief Dan Verdun says they always like people to make good decisions and be safe, and with education a key factor in safety, it’s always worth reminding the public to think twice before wading through unsafe conditions.

“We have very unpredictable and unstable ice and it’s a very high-risk situation that we would rather people not put themselves in,” he says.

“We always like people to make good decisions and be safe…but our job doesn’t change, we are there to help people in their time of need, but if there is an educational component we can put forward that is going minimize that risk for others, that’s what we are here for.”

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Verdun adds there may be some rationale for being on the river this time of year, but from the fire department’s perspective, there is a lot more concern, and higher risk. He says considering the added danger of ice that is unpredictable, significantly elevates any potential risks.

“The inherent risk to our members increase dramatically when you’re talking about unstable ice and moving water. We are put in situations, luckily, we can resort to training and specialized training, but it’s a risk that is better managed if we don’t find ourselves in the situation.”

He adds despite specialized training and equipment, river operations also add significant risk to firefighters and search and rescue personnel as well.

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