That's all the time you've got !!! Cold water submersion is one of the scariest and deadliest realities of the Canadian back country.
Each year outdoor enthusiasts take to the rivers, lakes, bush and back country to enjoy their favourite winter activity. Often these activities have deadly risks rarely acknowledged or respected. This lack of respect leads to countless incidents of cold water submersion.
I've been fortunate in my role as a Search and Rescue Operator to experience cold water submersion in both a controlled training environment as well as on real searches.
I will spare you the science and human physiology that allows researchers to determine that 2 minutes is the window for survival. However, I will tell you what happens to you physically, mentally and emotionally when your life is on the line and seconds is all you have.
As your body breaks through the ice of the creek, river or lake that you're on and you quickly find your whole body submerged in bone chilling water. As you fight to resurface from beneath the water your chest tightens and panic sets in. At the point of surfacing you gasp for air in terror. You realize for the first time that you've fallen through the ice and are now treading in ice water. You fight with all of your might to get out of the water but your energy seems sapped, your clothing is heavy and the ice shelf is slippery. You kick your feet as fast and as hard as you can and eventually pull yourself onto the ice again. As you lay there the wind whistles through you stealing any heat that your body might have had left. You realize that your hands and feet are frozen and that everything around you is starting to slow down.
As your body temperature drops dangerously low your body's core starts to conserve what little heat it has by shutting down flow to your extremities in order to keep warm blood around the heart. As you struggle to maintain balance and fine motor skills the simple tasks necessary to survive now become extremely difficult.
I think by now you see my point. 2 minutes goes by in a flash. You must have training, preparedness and the mindset that you will survive. You must carry on your person a fire kit with at least two means of starting a fire as well as some small tinder. This kit does you no good if it's anywhere but on you.
Your survival depends on your ability to self rescue, get out of the wind, get to the bush, quickly collect tinder and kindling, start a fire that can be sustained. It must be done in 2 minutes or less.
In my next post I will display the fire kit I carry on my person while operating on a search and rescue.