With temperatures frequently bouncing above and below freezing this winter, it's important to be cautious when venturing onto local lakes, says Whistler Fire Chief Shelia Kirkwood.
"Ice conditions change rapidly," Kirkwood said. "They're affected by different variables. They're particularly problematic in river inflows and outflows, everywhere there's moving water or springs under the lake.
“All I can say to someone going out on the lake is that they have to test the ice for themselves."
The fire department gets called out to water rescues every season. Often, the victim manages to pull themselves out of the water or are saved by the people they're with. That was the case late last year when the department was called out to help a man who had fallen into Green Lake.
"I understand what happened in that case was that person was with some friends, he went down and those people went to shore and grabbed a long branch and extended it out to get him," Kirkwood said, adding he was safe before firefighters arrived.
She said that group followed the proper rescue procedures. The first rule of helping someone submerged in the water: don't jump in after them.
"The best recommendation for trying to assist someone getting out of the ice is make a shore-based rescue only," she said. "They shouldn't be moving out to the ice themselves. Either reach out by a long pole, or a rope if you have access to one, something you can throw out to them. It should be from a stable platform like the dock or a shore."
The most common cold-water rescue the fire department conducts, though, is for four-legged friends.
"At least once every year we have a call for a dog rescue," Kirkwood said. "We're going to respond because the owner is more than likely to go after them. Give us a call and we'll come out for dogs. No one should hesitate to call us in that situation."
A trickier situation is when someone ventures alone onto the ice and falls in with no way to call for help.
"You shouldn't be out there by yourself," Kirwood said. "If you are, you better be prepared to self-rescue. And have a whistle to call for help."
If you do fall through the ice, Kirwood said first and foremost, try to remain calm. People will naturally clamour to get back up on the place where they fell through. Instead, attempt to pull yourself up in a different, more solid spot.
"Get up on your stomach kicking so you can swim up onto the ice surface. And remain very spread out. Try to distribute the weight," she said.
But the best thing you can do is to assess the ice carefully and make sure it's safe to traverse in the first place.
"We can't monitor every location in the municipality," Kirwood said. "It's just not possible for us to do that. People have to take responsibility for their own safety out there."
Though they don't have to use it often, the Whistler fire department trains for coldwater rescues.
"We're equipped with thermal suits and dry suits to protect the responders," Kirkwood said. "(We have) various ice-rescue sleds that give us the tools to safely respond to any ice condition, enter the water and retrieve people."