Hypothermia prevention is good warm-up for winter


January 16, 1994|By GARY DIAMOND

"We had about 4 inches of ice on the river the day before Christmas, but it's a lot thicker now," said North East resident and avid ice fisherman Herb Benjamin. "We're catching a few yellow perch, an occasional crappie and once in a while, we'll hook up with a legal-size largemouth, but they're kind of scarce this time of year."

From Tuesday to Saturday, Benjamin is a full-time barber and tackle-shop owner in North East. This time of year, his days off are spent fishing through the ice at the nearby North East River.

At 61, Benjamin has been ice fishing on the North East River for nearly a half century. However, when the river's ice cover is less than 4 inches, he fishes one of the frozen tributaries of Conowingo Lake, locations where the salinity's lower and the creeks frequently are covered with several inches of clear, hard ice.

Benjamin's 25-year-old son Mike often accompanies him on these midwinter fishing excursions. Mike, a licensed charter captain during the warmer months, says he thoroughly enjoys ice fishing, but he feels his father is overly cautions about the sport's perils.

Herb, on the other hand, says there's no such thing as too cautious, especially when you consider the chain of events that can take place if you were to fall through the ice and hypothermia sets in.

Hypothermia means the body cannot produce sufficient heat to maintain proper bodily function. Essentially, it's the body's inability to retain heat when subjected to certain conditions.

Normally, the body is able to retain heat and operate efficiently when subjected to temperatures ranging from 72 to 80 degrees. When the surrounding temperature climbs above 80, we perspire, our skin is cooled through evaporation and our internal temperatures remain relatively normal. When the temperature is lower than 72, our metabolism increases and we burn more heat-producing calories to maintain a core temperature of approximately 98.6 degrees.

A relatively young, healthy person can tolerate air temperatures down to 50 degrees for periods of several hours, retain body heat and still function normally. The key word here is air. Immerse the same individual to his neck in 50-degree water and in less than 10 minutes he'll be shivering uncontrollably. Forty minutes after being immersed he'll be in irreversible shock, lapse into a coma, and within an hour, he'll die of cardiac arrest.

The same process would take place if a fisherman plunged through the frozen surface of Broad Creek during an ice-fishing excursion. However, the water temperature just beneath the ice is a brisk 32.5 to 33 degrees. Just 90 seconds after plunging in the water you become numb and blood ceases to circulate in your extremities. It takes only another four minutes to go into shock and loose consciousness, and within 12 minutes, your heart stops beating.

Herb and Mike Benjamin avoid these life-threatening situations by taking precautions and following guidelines that make ice fishing a safe sport. They carry equipment that can assist them in saving their own lives or aid in the rescue of others. These articles are all lightweight and can be stored conveniently in a fanny pack or coat pocket.

A 50-foot length of 1/8 -diameter, braided, nylon line can be an essential tool for rescuing someone who falls through the ice. This lightweight line is available in most hardware stores where it's sold as replacement cordage for louvered blinds. But don't let its small diameter fool you. The line's breaking strength is rated at nearly 300 pounds, more than sufficient to pull a full-grown man from the water and slide him across the ice to safety.

However, to rescue that person, you must get the nylon line to them. Because of the line's light weight, it's nearly impossible to throw it more than a few feet. This problem is easily overcome by threading a child's sponge rubber ball on the line. The ball weighs about 6 ounces and when thrown provides more than enough weight to carry the line its full 50-foot length. Additionally, because the ball is constructed from soft, sponge rubber, it floats, thereby providing the person in the water with a relatively large object to grab.

A 3-foot diameter loop should be tied in the end of the line. If the person has been in the water for more than a minute, there's a good chance he will not have enough strength to grasp the line. The loop can be easily passed over the victim's head and under his arms, allowing the rescue party to pull him to safety despite his physical condition.

A pair of wooden-handle ice picks can be a real lifesaver for someone who happens to break through the ice in an isolated area.

They first must be modified by shortening the metal pick until it's just an inch long, then resharpen it with a grinding wheel or file. Drill a 1/8 -diameter hole through the handle and insert a lanyard made from 1/8 nylon line. The loop in the lanyard's end should be large enough to pass easily over a gloved hand.

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