Emergency responders learn firsthand the dangers of cold water in training exercise

LEWISTON, ID - First responders plunged into the freezing waters of the Snake River Friday, and it wasn't for the polar plunge.

These brave souls had to jump in and stay in for training. Reporter veronica miracle has this report from hell's gate state park.

It's freezing, gloomy and the complete opposite of the kind of weather you'd want to swim in. But unfortunately for these first responders it's what they have to deal with for their cold water training exercise.

"This is a good time of year to do this training because as you know it's steelhead season, salmon season," said Clearwater County Sheriff Marine Support, Mike Gladhart. "And it's a good thing for fishermen to know that wearing a life-jacket will save your life if you end up in the water."

Friday, members from local ranger stations are taking a roughly five minute plunge in the river that's barely in the forties.

"To keep us aware that we really can't do much to help a person in this water without a life-jacket or other personnel," said Asst. Mgr. of Hell's Gate State Park, Jeff Smith

There are three stages your body goes through once you hit the water. The first is shock. And in some cases people can die in this first stage because they gasp for air while underwater and drown. If you don't drown at that point you have about ten minutes of meaningful movement where you lose some function but you enough to clip on a life-vest.

"And then they have about an hour before they could actually succumb to hypothermia," said Gladhart.

The cold water immersion class is offered to emergency responders of all types, to help them understand the dangers of saving someone else.

"How not to jump into a situation with a lot of hazards, unknowns, meaning well to save somebody and becoming the second victim," said Smith.

"What we find is that the people that actually do it have come back with...'oh my gosh, that water is cold and I can't swim as far as I thought I would be able to,'" said Gladhart.

The water temperature in the Snake River doesn't reach the seventies until about July. Temperatures that hit seventy or below are considered too cold for recreational swimming.