Law enforcement agencies refresh ice rescue skills using special airboats

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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Law enforcement agencies wrapped up their two-day training for rescue missions on the ice Wednesday using specially made airboats. The Brown County Sheriff's Office and DNR partnered up to train nearly a dozen officers on the Bay of Green Bay.

Brown County Sheriff's Office airboat, made by 1000 Island Airboats

The airboats are not your typical airboats. They're made in Marion, Wis., by 1000 Island Airboats, and they’re specifically designed for ice rescues.

"Our boats have 18 layers of fiberglass and a polymer bottom, which makes them very strong and flexible to take the pounding that we get up here with the ice," said David Harris, co-owner of 1000 Island Airboats.

"A lot of times they'll be used for ice fishing rescues, where somebody broke through and we know where they're at or have a good idea of where they broke through," said Darren Kuhn, Conservation Warden with Wisconsin DNR.

Agencies are getting a refresher on mechanics and handling during each training session. The snowfall on Wednesday actually helped add variety to training.

"Every time you operate the airboat, conditions are going to be different. The last time we did this training it was glare ice, it was like a skating rink and the airboat handled differently than it is going to handle today with seven inches of fresh snow on top," Kuhn says.

"It's kind of a perishable skill. We don't use these boats very often for a time other than winter,” said Sgt. Phil Nelson with Brown County Sheriff’s Office. “So it's good to get out here and freshen up our skills with them.”

Harris says these boats have the capability to go on snow, ice, slush and water. In the case that ice does break under the airboat, it will be able to continue floating on top of the water. The heated airboats also allow for faster medical care for those in emergency situations.

"If they get somebody that's hypothermic in the boat, they can warm them up immediately,” said Harris. “They can also transport medical personnel and the personnel will be warm enough to actually do their duty when they get there."

Kuhn says the combined training sessions will help to make sure responders are prepared in case of any ice related emergencies on the water.

"The next time there's an emergency out on the ice in Green Bay or anywhere nearby, we can make a difference," Kuhn says.

Ninety percent of 1000 Island Airboats are used by emergency responders around the world.