If you have been reading this Cold Water Immersion blog series you are now familiar with the four physiological occurrences your body goes through when you are immersed in cold water and with what you can do to increase your chances of survival. This third and final blog in the series will focus on what a rescuer needs to do when extracting someone from cold water.
Someone being immersed in cold water is a tense and dangerous situation, so if you are going to rescue someone from wintry waters you need to make your own safety your priority. Be sure that you are wearing a personal flotation device (PFD) and thermal protection. When you are properly protected, remove the victim from the water slowly and gently and keep them as horizontal as possible. Although you may want to rush and remove the victim from the water, doing so could mean making jarring movements which could trigger ventricular fibrillation. Removing the victim vertically could cause blood to pool in the legs resulting in ventricular fibrillation or cardiac arrest. Removing them horizontally helps to keep blood flow moving uniformly throughout the body.
Source: Beyond Cold Water Bootcamp
Once the victim has been removed from the cold water, the focus shifts to warming that person. Again, put the person in a horizontal position and remove their clothing. To reduce jostling them, cut off their clothing unless they are only mildly hypothermic. Roughly handling someone who is moderately or severely hypothermic puts strain on the heart. Once the clothing is removed, blot the skin to remove moisture. Do not pat or rub the skin. Once moisture from the skin has been removed, insulate the victim with dry blankets, dry clothes, dry towels, etc. If you have a vapor barrier wrap it around the insulated victim. If there are no dry materials available, keep their clothes on and wrap the vapor barrier around the wet clothes to prevent evaporative heat loss.
If the victim is awake alert, and ONLY if they are awake alert, you can give them a high-sugar drink to provide energy and help fuel shivering (heat production). Do not give food or drink to someone who is not awake and alert or are going in-and-out of consciousness. Moderately and severly hypothermic people cannot shiver so apply external heat sources, preferably to their chest and armpits. If the person is unresponsive, check for a pulse for one minute. If you cannot find a pulse apply chest compressions for 3 minutes and re-check for a pulse for another minute. It is difficult to find a pulse in a hypothermic person as their heart may have slowed to a few beats per minute. Only ventilate the person if you are absolutely sure there is no pulse.
Source: Beyond Cold Water Bootcamp
Regardless of how successful the rescue and extraction is, the victim needs to immediately head to the emergency room for medical care.
Working around cold water cannot be avoided for some; however, there are steps you can take to protect yourself from the elements should you become immersed in cold water and steps you can take to aid in your survival and rescue. For more in-depth information on cold water immersion and survival, visit Beyond Cold Water Bootcamp.
To reduce risk of accident or injury, Carefree Boat Club performs regular maintenance and inspections on all vessels, equips all vessels with a ditch kit, personal flotation devices and a working radio, administers classroom and open-water training to all members, creates a comprehensive float plan prior to boat departure and provides current weather briefings.
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