A Message About Staying Safe Around Retention Ponds

February 2021

I’ve recently seen and have heard of too many incidents where kids are scampering across iced-over retention ponds. Having knowledge of what can compromise the ice covering these ponds, I felt compelled to reach out to our communities’ fire departments—Carmel Fire Department (CFD) and Zionsville Fire Department (ZFD)—to hear what the safety experts have to say about water safety in the winter. And I asked the departments to share what to do if you or someone else falls through or drives into the ice on a retention pond.

Carmel and Zionsville Ice Safety

Be a “Present” Adult in Your Neighborhood

ZFD’s public educator Vincent Randolph reminded us that winter water safety practices are just like summer water safety practices.

“Be a very present parent,” Randolph emphasized. “Don’t assume that your children or the children in your neighborhood are going to do the right thing if left to their own devices. From an adult perspective, I urge adults to be vigilant, be visible and be vocal. There is so much concern about how I will be perceived if I try to get children off the ice, and if I yell at them, how I will be perceived. Adulting isn’t easy, but we need to be active adults. It takes a village to save a child.”

If you live near or on a retention pond, take a moment to look around the pond on a regular basis to see if there’s anyone out there doing something unsafe on the ice or who has fallen in and needs help.

“I want to make sure that kids see me watching them [near or on the ice],” Randolph stated. “I want them to see me watching them because my visibility is going to send them a message that they are not doing something right or safe. And be vocal in the moment to correct the situation.”

Instructing kids to get off the ice and come over to the safety of the shore is key, but Randolph explained it is important to share with the kids why you instructed them to get off the ice.

“Be part of the education process and tell them, ‘Hey, I’m not trying to be mean, but you can fall through that ice, and I’m telling you this so that you can be safe.”

Why Retention Ponds Are Not Safe for People and Pets

Retention ponds are NEVER safe for humans or pets to walk on. Randolph explained why. “We assume that the ice looks safe on the surface, but what’s going on underneath reminds me of a duck. A duck is calm on the surface but underneath those legs are paddling. The ice on the surface of a retention pond [looks solid], but beneath the surface, the water is circulating. There’s a lot going on underneath that can weaken the ice about 15%. There is no 100% safe ice, and we’ve got to always be on our guard around retention ponds.”

Carmel and Zionsville Ice Safety

What to Do If Someone Falls In or Drives Into a Frozen Retention Pond

Both CFD and ZFD extensively train, annually, on ice and water rescues. And both departments directed that the first step is to call 911 should you or someone else fall through the ice—on foot or in a vehicle.

“Whether it’s a pet or a person, do NOT go out onto the ice,” Randolph stressed. “Coming straight from the division chief of training and safety Aaron Gibbons and echoed by me, ‘Call 911.’ Encourage the person in the water to stay as calm as possible and keep those legs moving.”

CFD Public Information Officer Tim Griffin added, “If you see someone or a pet in need, don’t go out after them. If you have some sort of life preserver or flotation that they can grab hold of, then throw it out to them and call 911. Make sure you have the location so that we can get out there as soon as possible. If you haven’t heeded the warnings and you’re out on the ice and it starts to crack, you want to spread your weight out. Don’t stand straight up—it puts all your weight directly at the breaking point. Spread your weight out and slowly try to move across the ice back to the shore.”

Carmel and Zionsville Ice Safety

The best way to avoid driving into a frozen retention pond, Griffin reminded us, is to be aware of the driving conditions and drive slowly, especially around bodies of water.

“The first thing you want to do, if you’ve driven into a pond, is to get out of that car as soon as possible,” Griffin said. “Get unbuckled and get on top of the car or, if you’re close enough, get back onto the shore. Then, and only after you’ve gotten out of the car, call 911 if you’re able. It is a good idea to have a glass break [to break your window if it fails to open] and a seat belt cutter in the car. A lot of these come as dual purpose. Again, do not wait in your car for help to come—get out of your car and get on top of it until help arrives.”

Be aware and stay safe out there this winter.