By BEA LEWIS, for The Laconia Daily Sun
New Hampshire Fish & Game Col. Kevin Jordan said three fatalities on Lake Winnipesaukee this weekend taxed the resources of his department that now has seven vacant conservation officer positions.
With a current staff of 32 statewide, none of whom work the same day, Jordan envisions a nightmare scenario involving multiple major incidents and not having enough personnel to respond.
“We’re the only game in town,” Jordan said, explaining that his agency has sole jurisdiction and the specialized training needed to handle emergencies on the state’s waterways, mountains and back country. The department is also tasked with investigating snowmobile and ATV accidents.
“It was a very concerning weekend,” Jordan said, of the seven incidents of snowmobiles breaking through the ice on Lake Winnipesaukee and Lake Winnisquam that claimed three lives.
While he was quick to credit the members of the Alton, Gilford, Moultonborough, Tuftonboro and West Ossipee Fire Rescue Departments who aided conservation officers over the weekend, he wants the ability to fill his vacant positions.
Since 1989, the department has relied on a $1 fee collected for each boat, snow machine and ATV registered in New Hampshire that annually totals about $192,000 to fund its search and rescue operations.
From 2011-2015 search and rescue expenditures have eclipsed revenue by some $200,000. As a consequence of the financial shortfall, the department has been forced to sacrifice conservation officer positions, equipment, training and other safety related programs to cover the rising costs of rescues.
Col. Jordan was grateful for the assistance his agency received from area firefighters.
“These guys are a blessing. They have good common sense and knowledge of the lake,” Jordan said, of members of the Alton, Gilford, Moultonborough, Tuftonboro and West Ossipee Fire Departments.
While air boats need a skilled operator, as they are difficult to drive, Jordan said, the vessels provide the only safe platform when dealing with thin ice. West Ossipee trailered their air boat to the Lakes Region to aid in rescue and recovery efforts.
Also on Sunday, Meredith Fire-Rescue was called to respond to a Black Brook Road residence for a report of a 32-year-old man suffering from cold exposure after having fallen through the ice on Lake Winnisquam.
State police initially received a telephone call reporting that one snowmobiler had broken through the ice just east of Pot Island in Sanbornton shortly before 4 p.m. A second man riding with the victim on another snowmobile that became partially submerged was able to pull him out. The rescuer then told the wet man to take the remaining snowmobile and get to shore.
The victim went to a home at 210 Black Brook Road in Meredith, but declined to be taken to the hospital for treatment. He was too cold and exhausted to return to the ice to pick up his stranded friend, however.
New Hampshire Fish & Game personnel were able to retrieve the second man from the ice about 6 p.m., who reported via cell phone that heavy snowfall and high winds were creating white-out conditions and that he didn’t know which way to go to get to shore.
Saturday night, a snowmobiler sank his sled near the town docks in Meredith Bay. The docks are ringed in open water as bubblers have been installed to keep ice from forming and damaging the pilings. A recovery team that used air bags to raise the sunken machine, reported the incident to Meredith police on Sunday who in turn notified New Hampshire Fish & Game.
Earlier on Saturday, Meredith Fire Rescue was called to the ice of Meredith Bay to render aid to a man who had fallen and broken his leg while involved in horseplay with his brother.
Meredith Police Detective Corporal John Eichhorn said while traffic was plentiful as a result of the fishing derby “it was a peaceful weekend.”
Col. Jordan urged snowmobilers and anyone outdoors to be wary of ice conditions, which are variable due to a variety of factors including a water body’s size, temperature, depth, current and wind exposure which can affect ice formation. Snowfall that covered early ice acts as an insulator and prevents the ice from thickening.
If you break through the ice, don’t panic. Move or swim back to the place you broke through, lay both arms on the unbroken ice and kick hard. This will help lift you back onto the ice. Roll away from hole until you reach solid ice.
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