With temperatures hovering about one degree above zero and a wind chill of 18 degrees below, Oak Bluffs firefighters staged an ice rescue drill Sunday morning on a frozen pond at The Preserve, a partially-built housing development off County Road.

Matt Gongola played role of victim in the water. — Ray Ewing

The rescue team first cut a hole in the thick ice using a chainsaw. Clad in a bright yellow survivor suit, one member of the team slid into the water, clinging to the edge of the ice.

Two other members of the team crawled from shore out onto the ice, carrying a floating rescue sling. The rescuers and the sling were tethered by safety lines.

Oak Bluffs fire and EMS chief John Rose explained the technique for using the rescue sling to save someone who has fallen through the ice.

“When people are in the water like that, they’re panicked,” he said. “You take your dominant arm and you grab their arm, and you snake it right off your shoulder and right over them in one move. Now that person has a flotation device on them so they can’t sink.”

A rescuer slid into the water behind the mock victim to help him back onto solid ice, helped by rescuers braced on shore pulling on the safety line.

Wearing a bright yellow survival suit, Matt Gongola dutifully played the roll of a panicked victim in the water.

Drill was staged on a pond at The Preserve, a housing development off County Road. — Ray Ewing

He laughed at the relative lack of urgency of his fellow rescuers as he waited in the water for the simulated rescue. “They’re professionals. They knew it was me, that’s why they took their time.”

Chief Rose said it is fortunate that the rescue crew doesn’t often have to perform real ice rescues, but they need to be familiar with the equipment and conditions if needed.

“It’s important because the kids are out on the ice playing hockey, there’s people that go out fishing on the ice, and you never know what the stability is of the ice,” said Chief Rose. “It could have air pockets in it where the ice is thinner. We need to be ready, because when somebody goes through the ice, in this kind of temperature with the water, it’s not long before they get into serious trouble. We need to be proficient in being able to get them out.”

The chief said he was pleased with the turnout for the drill, with about 25 members of the department on hand in frigid conditions.

More photos from the ice drill.