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Armstrong County firefighting unit braves frigid lake in safety training

| Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014, 11:30 p.m.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Armstrong County 340 Task Force member Scott Held of Vandergrift strains to pull himself out of the water using ice awls to grab the ice during training on the frozen ice in Northmoreland Park in Allegheny Township on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Under the watchful eye of state instructors Mike Buchan, right, and his brother Tom, left, members of the Armstrong County 340 Task Force perform a boat rescue on the frozen ice in Northmoreland Park in Allegheny Township on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
During a training exercise at the Valley High School pool in New Kensington, John Lemon, bottom front, and Ken Fouse are pulled out of the water by Frank Lemon, top left, and Chad Clark on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Before the rescue personnel ever go near water, Mike Buchan, a volunteer state instructor with the Pa. Fish and Boat Commission, conducts a three-hour classroom training session at the Leechburg fire station on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2013.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
John Lemon of New Kensington holds a safety line as members of the Armstrong County 340 Task Force train on the frozen ice in Northmoreland Park in Allegheny Township on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
A coiled nylon mesh rescue harness secured with a locking metal carabiner is the lifeline for ice rescue personnel as shot on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014.

It was the opposite extreme for firefighters — fighting frigid temperatures, not the heat of flames.

Fourteen members of the Armstrong County 340 Task Force, training in water rescues, cut a hole in 4-inch-thick ice on the lake at Northmoreland Park in Allegheny Township in Westmoreland County and donned dry suits last weekend to demonstrate what they learned in a classroom session and practice session in a swimming pool.

Each had to show proficiency in four areas: self-extrication, using ice picks; saving a victim, using ropes and poles; a boat and swimming board rescue; and, as a last resort, diving into the icy water for a direct save.

“We want people to know that there are trained resources available. The viability for people in freezing water is 30-60 minutes,” said Dan Felack, task force deputy chief.

The group includes members of Leechburg Volunteer Fire Department, Vandergrift Fire Department Co.1, Markle Volunteer Fire Department in Allegheny Township, Lower Kiski Emergency Services and Eureka Fire-Rescue and EMS in Tarentum.

All completed the course to earn ice rescue certification, a skill needed to become certified as a state swiftwater emergency technician.

Eric Felack is a Trib Total Media photographer. Reach him at efelack@tribweb.com.

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