Mascoma Lake ice safety workshop shows how to avoid falling through, get out if you do

  • Enfield Firefighter Andrew Burse plunges himself into Mascoma Lake during ice rescue training in Enfield, N.H., Saturday, March 6, 2021. Firefighters demonstrated rescues with the use of throw-ropes, harnesses, a team rescue with a backboard, and self-rescue with ice picks to a crowd gathered to observe. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News photographs — James M. Patterson

  • Ethan Huff, 7, hangs on to the chainsaw brought by his dad, Lebanon Firefighter Dan Huff, left, to cut a hole in 30 inches of ice of Lake Mascoma for a demonstration of ice rescue and safety in Enfield, N.H., Saturday, March 6, 2021. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • Priscilla Geoghegan, of Canaan, walks to join friends for a ski on Mascoma Lake after watching an ice safety demonstration by the Lebanon and Enfield Fire Departments in Enfield, N.H., Saturday, March 6, 2021. Geoghegan and a friend were rescued after falling through ice on Canaan Street Lake while skating earlier this year. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • Enfield Firefighter Richard Maheu, center, demonstrates an ice rescue with two of his colleagues for a crowd gathered to learn about ice safety on Mascoma Lake in Enfield, N.H., Saturday, March 6, 2021. The Enfield and Lebanon fire departments teamed up to present the event. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News photographs — James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/6/2021 10:27:15 PM
Modified: 3/6/2021 10:47:34 PM

ENFIELD — When Priscilla Geoghegan and a friend went through the ice while they were skating on Canaan Street Lake on Dec. 30, they were “very lucky,” she said.

There was a police officer, Matthew Bunten, standing on shore who saw them fall in. And Geoghegan’s son was on the way to meet her, too.

“It was just a matter of waiting it out,” and not panicking, Geoghegan said Saturday, standing on the thick ice of Mascoma Lake.

But not everyone is so lucky. The ice can play tricks on even the most seasoned skater or fisherman.

Geoghegan was among around 100 people who turned out Saturday morning for a workshop on how to “self-rescue” from a fall through the ice and how to rescue someone who has fallen in. Taught by members of the Lebanon and Enfield fire departments, and organized by the Mascoma Lake Skating Association, the demonstration was intended to help people recognize dangerous situations and avoid them or, if necessary, extricate themselves.

“We really want people to understand the process of how to get out if they go in,” Joan Holcombe, one of the founders of the Mascoma Lake Skating Association, said while she and others who’d arrived early waited for the dozen fire and rescue personnel to cut a hole in the ice. “We don’t want to lose anybody.”

The skating group is striving to encourage people to get out on Mascoma Lake ice, and its founders feel a responsibility to make sure people know how to do so safely, Holcombe said. The skating association hopes to hold safety workshops regularly for school and community groups, she said.

Where the firefighters cut a hole on Saturday, the ice was 30 inches thick. A firefighter who also has a tree business on the side had to go get a chainsaw with a 28-inch bar to finish cutting through.

In his talk, Lebanon Fire Capt. Jim Wheatley gave attendees a few basic rules to follow:

■“We don’t recommend people being on (the ice) unless it’s 4 inches thick.”

■“We always encourage people to wear some kind of personal flotation device.”

■Local knowledge is important: Ask people who know a lake or pond well where the thin ice is.

■Early winter and spring are the most dangerous times, and fresh ice is usually thicker and safer than older ice.

■First responders are called more often for pets falling through the ice than for people.

If someone does fall through, there’s a checklist to keep in mind, Wheatley said:

■“Try to stay calm and relaxed.”

■A person in the water should try to turn back to where they were standing before falling in, as the ice is likely safer there.

■Kick your legs up as if you’re swimming and try to crawl out onto the ice. “The biggest thing that’s going to make the most difference is kicking your feet.”

■Once out of the water, stay flat and roll away from the opening. Keeping your weight spread out makes it less likely the ice will break again.

■Bring life-saving gear with you, such as spikes to dig into the ice to help you climb out, or a “throw bag,” a weighted bag containing a length of rope, to help rescue some else who has fallen in.

As Wheatley described these steps, four firefighters — Isaac Cleveland and Kayleigh Eastman, of Lebanon, and Richard Maheu and Andrew Burse, of Enfield — demonstrated techniques. They used the hand-held spikes, typically worn on a loop around a person’s neck, to claw out of the murky water and roll onto the ice. And they pulled one another out of the water with the throw rope and with a sling fastened under the victim’s arms.

When trying to rescue someone, the worst thing to do is rush to their side and end up in the water yourself, Wheatley said.

“You have to have some composure and some self-discipline,” he said.

Hypothermia sets in very quickly in frigid water, often within minutes. It’s important to get a person rescued from the water out of their wet clothes and into blankets, Wheatley said. The skating association has placed ice rescue safety boxes in a couple of locations next to the lake. In addition to rescue equipment, the boxes contain blankets.

Enfield resident Charles Clark worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory in Hanover for nearly 20 years.

“They told us to measure every time we went on the ice,” he said. He fell through the ice on a river near Massena, N.Y., although the ice measured 21 inches. He ended up on a thin spot.

Something similar happened to Geoghegan on Canaan Street Lake. Near shore, the ice was 5 inches thick, but toward the middle there was only an inch of ice, she said.

“I’ve skated on that lake for 40 years,” she said. “I know that the middle takes longer, but I’ve never seen it like that.”

On Saturday, she wore a pair of ice spikes on a coil around her neck. Maybe she’d have been able to escape the water on her own if she’d had the spikes with her, she said at the end of the 40-minute workshop.

“Now I know what to do,” she said. “I think it was very helpful.”

Alex Hanson can be reached at or 603-727-3207.

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