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Fire & Rescue

Two fall into Black River, but made it out safely, as La Crosse dive team searched

Rick Solem

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The best kind of rescue for emergency responders in La Crosse — the one where nobody needed to be rescued.

Meinertz

Two people did fall through the ice on the Black River just down Lauderdale Place near Nutbush in Onalaska on Thursday.

A call came in at 5 p.m. mentioning a big hole in the ice and a tipped over minnow buck next to that hole.

“For us, that’s a full response, and time is kind of the essence there, especially if the person is already underwater,” La Crosse Fire Captain Nick Meinertz told WIZM.

One diver was looking for about 20 minutes with low visibility in water that was about 20 feet deep making things pretty difficult. What helped, though, is that the two people in their 50s that fell in, were no longer in the water.

While the diver was under, looking, police canvassed the area and talked to a neighbor who saw the two fall through and get out safely.

“We cleaned up and went home,” Meinertz said. “So, the best case scenario, the best thing possible.

Meinertz said the two felt bad for emergency responders called to the scene — around 25 showed up from different entities — but they weren’t sure what to do.

“The people who actually fell into the water, went home, changed their clothes got warmed up and decided to go back to the scene,” Meinertz, who’s been with the department for 14 years, added. “But, what happened is both of their cellphones went down with them when they went into the water, so they weren’t able to call.”

He added that, if possible, in an incident like this, to call dispatch and let them know where you were and that you fell in but did get out — in case a witness ends up calling.

What’s interesting about the potential of a cold water rescue, Meinertz said people have survived for up to two hours underwater.

“What happens, when you go hypothermic, is all your blood goes to your core and protects your vital organs, and it kind of slows your brain function, just to keep those other organs alive,” Meinertz said. “Then, when they get warmed back up, the nerves start flowing again to all their limbs, and they can actually survive the actual drowning.”

How this rescue worked — and probably in general for a scenario like this — Meinertz said they had one diver under and their limit is about 20 minutes. They also have a second and third diver on standby for a number of reasons — in case the first diver finds the victim, gets in trouble themselves or needs to be relieved after that 20-minute period.

Lastly, Meinertz said it’s getting to the point that a lot of the ice in the area is pretty unsafe.

Host of WIZM's La Crosse Talk PM | University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point graduate | Hometown: Greenville, Wis | Avid noonball basketball player and sand volleyballer in La Crosse

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