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survival skills

  • How to Survive a Fall Through Thin Ice

    How to Survive a Fall Through Thin Ice

    In early December, a firefighter rescued a Golden Retriever who had fallen through thin ice into a lake. Linda Park's dog, Dakota, wandered off during one of their usual walks, and he fell through the ice into the frigid water. Dakota grew tired of trying to climb out after a half hour, and a firefighter came to the rescue after a neighbor called 9-1-1.

    Capt. Tom Langevin of the Waterboro Fire Department put on a wetsuit, walked 50 feet onto the ice, crawled another 25 feet toward Dakota, and then jumped in to rescue the dog. Watch a video of their story:

    Of course, dogs are not the only ones in danger of falling through thin ice. More than 20 people have drowned in the last 10 years after falling through thin ice, more than 50 percent of which are due to failed attempts to rescue dogs or other people. Children are the most at risk; teach kids safety precautions when spending time around frozen bodies of water.


    How to Survive a Fall Through Thin Ice

    Keep Off The Ice

    Of course, the best way to avoid thin ice danger is to stay off frozen water. Venturing onto frozen ice is a bit like playing Russian Roulette, as some individuals will inevitably fall through the ice or become stranded on an icy island. Children are particularly attracted to iced-over lakes and canals for ice-skating opportunities.

    Rescuing Someone Else

    If a loved one or someone nearby falls through the ice, take the following precautions to ensure you don’t become another casualty.

    • Do not attempt to go out onto the ice yourself.
    • Call emergency services for assistance.
    • Instruct them to keep still to maintain heat and energy, and to anchor themselves to the edge of the ice to help them stay afloat. This can be done with safety spikes, a car key, or another sharp object they may have in their pocket, like a nail file or a pocket knife.
    • Throw or reach out with a rope, pole, branch, or item of clothing. While lying down or getting someone to hold onto you, attempt to pull the person to shore.
    • If these or a similar item is unavailable, try to find something that will float to throw or push out to them to keep them afloat until assistance arrives.
    • Continue to reassure and keep them talking until help arrives.
    • If the rescue is successful, they will need to be kept warm and treated for shock. They should be taken to hospital even if they appear to be unaffected by their ordeal.

    Rescuing Yourself

    • Carry a spud bar or walking stick to probe for thin areas and to use for additional traction and balance over slippery areas.
    • Carry safety spikes to help you stay afloat and climb out by anchoring into or gripping the ice. (See the videos below to learn how they work and how to make a DIY version.)
    • Carry fire starters in a tightly sealed plastic bag or waterproof container to re-warm yourself after your rescue. Keep the container in a zipped jacket pocket so it stays with you, as any items you carry may easily be lost in the water.
    • Wear a small waterproof backpack with essential supplies such as water, food, an emergency blanket, and a change of clothes. Keep the backpack lightweight so it doesn’t weigh you down in the water. If it pulls you down, remove it.
    • Wear a flotation suit.
    • When you fall in, hold your breath and try to resurface as quickly as possible if your head submerges.
    • Remain calm: panic will only make the situation worse, with potential hyperventilation, gasping, hypertension, and an increased pulse.
    • Spend the first minute concentrating on staying afloat. Tread water and lean back slightly.
    • Locate the strongest edge of ice and use your arms and elbows to lift yourself up as much as possible.
    • Lean forward onto the ice and kick your feet to “swim” out horizontally. This will be easier than attempting to pull yourself upward and out.
    • If you struggle to get out, keep as much of your body above the water as possible to minimize body heat loss. If you absolutely cannot get yourself out, stop struggling to maintain your energy and slow the process of hypothermia.
    • If you successfully exit the ice, do not attempt to stand up right away, but instead roll or crawl away from the hole. Do not stand until you are out of danger of falling back through the ice.
    • Retrace your steps back to safety.
    • Warm yourself and get help to avoid the onset of hypothermia.

    Want to make your own? Check out this simple tutorial from BigFishTackle.com


    Have you ever fallen through the ice or seen someone who has? What did you do?






  • How to Escape a Sinking Car

    A Massachusetts woman made an unexpected 9-1-1 call on December 14th when she swerved to avoid a head-on collision and her car careened into a river.

    Debora Wrigley Dooley called for help when she realized the water was too fast and deep for her to save herself. The water was high enough to partially fill the car, but not high enough that Debora was in immediate danger of drowning. Rescue crews arrived within 4 minutes, and the current had already swept the car 150 yards downstream. Rescuers were able to quickly retrieve Debora from the car without serious injury.

    An average of 300 Americans die each year in submerged cars. In her particular situation, Debora did the right thing by staying where she was and calling 9-1-1. But what if she had driven into a deep lake, instead, and started to sink?

    In water deep enough to engulf a car, experts suggest leaving your phone behind and saving yourself. And you may be surprised to hear that the previously popular method of waiting for the water pressure to equalize, then opening the door, is no longer the suggested escape method. So, would you know what to do? If not, read on, because a few simple tips can make a world of difference.


    How to Escape a Sinking Car

    You have about one minute to escape a car that has fallen or driven into deep water. Dr. Gordon Geisbrecht of the University of Manitoba has performed over 80 test vehicle submersions. He says performing these four steps in quick succession gives you the best chance of escape:

    How to Escape a Sinking Car

    Let’s look at each step in more detail:

    Seatbelt – Once your car hits the water, remove your seatbelt as quickly as possible—just don’t remove it before hitting the water. According to the Institute for Road Safety Research in the Netherlands, around half of the injuries in car submersion accidents are due to injury, not drowning. Give yourself the best chances of survival by always wearing a seatbelt, then unbuckling quickly once you hit the water.

    Window – There are two potential options here:

    Roll down your window. The back window is ideal, but side windows will work fine if the back window doesn’t or won’t go down. If there are multiple people in the car, have everyone roll down and escape via their own window if possible.

    Break the window. If your window won’t roll down, you’ll need to break it. Have a center punch or window spike in the car for this purpose, and keep it easily and immediately accessible.

    Children – If there are kids in the car not old enough to unbuckle themselves or who can’t swim, help them get out first by pushing them out the windows (they may not be strong enough to push against the flow of water without help). If there’s another adult or an older child, hand kids who can’t swim out the window to them.

    Out – Get out of the car as fast as you can. Don’t reach for your phone or other valuables, and be ready to push against the current that’s rushing in through the window.


    See the steps in action:


    And check out Richard Hammond from Top Gear testing “get out fast” versus the outdated “wait for the pressure to equalize” course of action:

    So, next time someone shares the “wait for the pressure to equalize” bit, go ahead and correct them using Dr. Geisbrecht’s tips and these videos. Knowing the info can save your own life. Sharing the info can save even more.

    Here’s to knowing what to do, but hoping you never have to put it to use.




    https://gma.yahoo.com/massachusetts-woman-rescued-car-plunges-river-153438485--abc-news-topstories.html. Accessed 12-16-14.
    http://www.umanitoba.ca/faculties/kinrec/about/giesbrecht_faqs.html#sinking. Accessed 12-16-14.
    http://www.swov.nl/rapport/Factsheets/UK/FS_Cars_in_water.pdf. Accessed 12/16/14.

  • 4 Ways Trees Can Help You Survive

    4 Ways Trees can Help You Survive

    One spring, while hiking in Yellowstone, two friends of mine got lost. One of them fell down a mountainside and went into shock, so they had to spend an extra night in the snowy cold. When they finally emerged (safe, thank goodness), Jeff, the uninjured hiker, told me he was able to make a temporary shelter, build a warming fire on a snowy night, and brew a hot, vitamin-rich drink, all using different parts of one important natural resource—a tree.

    Trees can do much more than just provide fruit or a lean-to shelter in an emergency. So it’s important to learn the different uses for trees, and how certain trees can help you in survival situations. Start by becoming familiar with the trees in your area, and remember that trees have their limitations and certain things they can and cannot do if you have to use them in an emergency (for instance one type of tree might be good for starting fires, but might taste horrible  if you try to eat its bark).

    Here are some general tips for using trees in a survival situation.

    1. Food. Underneath the outermost bark layer of trees like basswood or white pine, is often a thin layer of bark that is edible and sometimes sweet.

    4 Ways Trees can Help you Survive


    4 Ways Trees can Help you Survive

    White Pine

    The seeds inside the little helicopter leaves of the sugar maple tree can be boiled and salted liked soy beans.

    4 Ways Trees can help you survive

    Sugar Maple leaf

    Oak trees produce acorns that, once leached of the tannic acid, can be ground into flour. Basswood leaves and young maple leaves can be eaten like spring greens.

    4 Ways trees can help you survive


    2. Drink. You can drink the sap from white birch or sugar maple trees, sometimes even without purification.

    4 Ways Trees can Help you Survive

    White Birch

    If it’s too thick for drinking (like pine resin) you can mix it with water. You can also make “tea” from the twigs or young-growth bark of white birch trees, if you steep them in boiling water. Do the same with pine needles and you get a drink that is very rich in Vitamin C.

    3. Equipment. You can make several survival tools that are easy to craft and would be extremely useful in a wilderness survival situation.

    • Adhesives—You can make an adhesive from white birches and white pines by either by heating the bark over a fire and extracting the pine tar or heating and mixing tree resin with crushed charcoal. Use these adhesives for sticking arrow heads to sticks or to waterproof tent seams.
    • Rope—You can make rope from different parts of different trees. Look to the surface layer roots of white pine, which are very pliable and strong. The bark of willow trees can be peeled away and used as rope. You can also make rope from the inner fibers of the basswood tree that makes very strong cordage.
    • Candles/heatersIf you pour pine resin into a non-flammable container (such as a depression in a rock) and lay a twisted piece of cloth across it, you can light the cloth, which will light the resin, and, voila, a candle!  You can use a tool like the Gerber Suspension Multi-Plier to poke holes in a metal container. If you then place the container over the lit resin, the metal should heat up sufficiently to warm your hands and feet. Cool, right?

    4. Medicine. Many trees and tree parts have medicinal uses. For instance, tannic acid, which can be extracted by boiling acorns or the inner bark of oak trees or oak twigs, is anti-bacterial and can be used as an antiseptic wash. Some also report that it can be consumed to treat diarrhea And, if you get a cut or an infection, you can spread pine resin on it to stop bleeding, prevent bacteria from growing, and close the wound. Willow bark can be chewed for its juices, which contain a chemical called salicin that can relieve headaches and inflammation—nature’s aspirin.

    Remember: These tips are for general knowledge. Always consult a medical professional for treatment, especially if any of the above treatments fail to work or worsen the condition.

    Whether you have a useful tool, like the Outdoor Edge Axe-It Hatchet or the Outdoor Edge Pack Saw or no tools at all, a tree can do something for you.


    Has a tree ever come to your rescue?  Please share your story—or another tree-use tip—with us in the comments!


    -Sarah B


    Photo of White Pine courtesy of New Hampshire State Forest Nursery

    Photo of Sugar Maple leaf courtesy of Waterfordvillage.org





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