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Edmonton rescue officials remind residents to stay off ice during spring thaw

The thawing North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton, Alta. on Tuesday, April 6, 2021. Global News

After several calls in the last week, Edmonton Fire Rescue Services is reminding citizens to stay off the ice.

EFRS has responded to six calls for either children playing on the ice, or people who have gone onto the ice in an attempt to rescue animals.

“That is six calls too many, six preventable calls,” Bruce McWhinnie, chief of special operations with EFRS said. “At this time of year, with the ice shelves shifting and moving currents, the river is not safe.”

Read more: Potholes, alley ruts, flooding: Navigating spring driving hazards in Edmonton

In one incident last week, a child fell into the river but was able to self rescue. McWhinnie said he doesn’t like to use the phrase “lucky,” but said this child was lucky.

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“The issue is there is a separation between the water level and the ice and getting yourself up and over on the ice when it’s moving is extremely difficult.”

The main reason behind the safety concerns is the ice on the river isn’t a solid sheet, McWhinnie said. Instead, it is multiple pans that have been pushed together. At those seams, a person or animal is more likely to fall in the river.

“The water is relentless and it is powerful. The challenge is that current may take you under the ice shelf… once you go under there you either become pinned or you don’t have the ability to come out the other end,” McWhinnie said.

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McWhinnie also encouraged dog owners to stay away from river banks and to keep their pets on a leash near the river, saying as ducks and geese return to Edmonton waters, it can provide a greater draw to many animals.

“It’s simple, if you love your pets, leash them,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Man presumed dead after being swept away during dog rescue on North Saskatchewan River' Man presumed dead after being swept away during dog rescue on North Saskatchewan River
Man presumed dead after being swept away during dog rescue on North Saskatchewan River – Apr 6, 2021

The majority of animal water rescues EFRS performs happen near off-leash parks, with the majority happening near the Terwillegar Dog Park, Hermitage Dog Park and Hawrelak Park.

As schools are currently closed for spring break, the EFRS encouraged parents to discuss with their children the dangers of the river and other ice surfaces.

Read more: Man dies after being swept away during dog rescue on North Saskatchewan River

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One of the calls EFRS received last week was from a bystander who saw kids on the ice near open water. One girl fell through, but was able to self-rescue, officials said.

“We also had a call for a group of kids on the ice at Terra Losa lake,” Kathy Logozar with EFRS said. “Stormwater ponds are dangerous because of unpredictable depths, the currents, and the inconsistency of the ice surface.”

Anyone who sees a person or pet fall through the ice is encouraged to call 911, stay on the shore, establish and maintain a point of reference where the person or pet was last seen and to never attempt to rescue a person or pet that has fallen through ice.

Last April, a 55-year-old man died after he was swept away in the North Saskatchewan River while attempting to rescue a dog

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