Ice Safety and Rescue Certification at St. Michael’s High School

Students standing in immersion suits

Outdoor learning initiatives are highly valued and encouraged at the Western Québec School Board. Learning outdoors provides students with a refreshing change of scenery, boosts motivation, and opens a whole set of invaluable skills that cannot be practiced indoors. Québec, “La belle province”, provides many of our schools and centres with easy access to breathtaking nature where students can expand their knowledge. 

At St. Michael’s High School, located in Low Québec, Grade 11 students devote one full day out of their 9-day schedule to Sports and Recreation. Activities include tennis, skiing and mountain biking at Mont Ste Marie, long cycling trips, hiking, ice fishing, fishing, snowshoeing, and more. This past January, for the first time, the school added a two-day Ice Safety and Rescue certification course. This course was offered by Boreal River Rescue, with facilitators Danny Peled and Ryan Brown-Tasse, as well as with St. Michael’s teacher, Matt Orlando, who runs the Sports and Recreation program. 

The certification is very comprehensive and covers everything from how to assess ice conditions, the stages of hypothermia, how to provide appropriate emergency aid and transportation, to knowing big gestural safety signals for communication with others who are out of earshot. Ice Safety and Rescue training started bright and early in the school gym, where the warmth allowed students to fully focus on absorbing all the skills before moving outside. 

The certification was set up on the Gatineau River at the public warf, just a 13-minute walk from the school. For the students, the most exciting aspect of the certification was donning their red immersion suits, which kept them warm and buoyant, while practising hands-on training in the water. 

Growing up in the Upper-Gatineau region, the students have a healthy respect for the ice, but empowered by the training, there were no signs of fear. With big smiles, they practised how to self-rescue as well as how to rescue others. They practiced with ice picks and with ropes, learning how to tie various safety knots, turn the rope into a harness, and several strategies for how to use rope in different rescue situations. 

Near the end of the two-day training, they had all their newfound skills put to the test. They were asked to go hide while the trainers and Mr. Orlando created a rescue scenario.  The students got to work immediately, assigning one student as their lead who then created teams, delegating tasks and responsibilities to each. Teamwork was clearly evident, and they saved all three ‘victims’, treating them all appropriately for the stage of hypothermia that they presented in the simulated scenario. 

Offering speciality certifications to students not only gives them a skill they can add to their resumé, but it can also save a life one day. Considering how many lakes and rivers are in this beautiful region, this was a very worthwhile activity for St. Michael’s High School to offer their Grade 11 students. 

A special thank you to teacher Matt Orlando for providing information for this article. Also, a special thank you to Danny Peled for allowing the use of his photos from the first day of training (the sunny pictures). 

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