DETORIT (WWJ) – State officials are warning residents to stay off the ice, saying it’s a matter of life and death.

The ice is thawing as temperatures rise, leading to extremely dangerous and unpredictable conditions on lakes, ponds and rivers across the state.

First responders statewide have responded to numerous calls for adults, children and pets that fall through the changing ice conditions. In Bay County, Sheriff Troy Cunningham says they’ve had multiple calls for help and rescues every day for at least the past week.

“A couple days ago, we had a guy go through the ice that is still in the hospital in serious condition. But most don’t actually go through into the water, they’re just on a piece of ice that had broken free, on an ice floe that’s moving, and the Coast Guard had to send their air boat out to get them,” he said. “It’s just not worth the risk. You don’t want to risk human life for fishing.”

Sehlmeyer says people need to realize that their risk increases when using makeshift bridges to get onto ice, or crossing a crack in the ice to get further out onto a lake or river.

“Late winter ice many times leads to dangerous situations that could end in tragedy,” Sehlmeyer said in a statement. “We ask parents and pet owners to keep children and pets off the ice as the melt begins. Always call 9-1-1 to report individuals and pets in the water needing to be rescued.”

Nearly 85 percent of ice rescue emergency 911 calls are a result of individual or pet owners trying to save a pet who fell through the ice, Sehlmeyer  said.

If you should fall into near-freezing water and begin to gasp for air and hyperventilate, don’t thrash. Rather, remember the 1-10-1 principle. In the first minute get control of your breathing. The next 10 minutes is your window of meaningful movement to escape. You will have up to one hour to escape or be rescued before you become unconscious.

Take that first minute in the water to slow your breathing. Look around and determine where the ice is the thickest. Usually, you’ll want to turn to and face the way you came from. In that direction, the ice had been strong enough to hold you (until it wasn’t). Stretch your arms atop the ice surface. Flutter-kick your feet until your body is horizontal, like a swimmer kicks. Kick harder, using your hands and arms to pull yourself onto the ice. Roll away from the hole, and then crawl until you can safely stand.

According to Sehlmeyer, you simply cannot judge or guess, ice thickness and safety, especially in late winter and early spring. Watch out for thin ice conditions that can hide cracks and weak spots such as: slushy ice; any ice with water on it; and snow-covered ice. Ice that has thawed and re-frozen is weaker and will appear milky. As the snow melt increases, ice will become thinner and more dangerous, and may melt faster due to an increase in water flow and stronger currents as lakes and rivers rise.

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