When RCMP Cst. Mark McTaggart went into the office to help a colleague with a case, he didn't expect to be crawling on thin ice later that morning. But police work isn't predictable.
I wasn't scheduled to work until the night shift, but I was called in to assist with a file," says McTaggart. "
I was about to head back home to get some rest."
Then came the call for a man spotted walking dangerously close to the fast-moving Saskatchewan River, which links Cedar Lake and Lake Winnipeg in Grand Rapids, Man. McTaggart jumped in a cruiser with a colleague to respond.
As he walked to the riverbank, McTaggart spotted the man on the ice near the shore when the scene took a turn for the worst and the man slipped into the river.
You almost want to jump in and help him right away, but I took a second to breathe and assessed the situation," says McTaggart.
In 2019, McTaggart participated in the Manitoba RCMP's Ice Rescue Technician training, designed to teach officers the knowledge and skills to help someone struggling in icy water.
On thin ice
After radioing his coworkers for help and dispatch for Emergency Medical Services, another officer rushed over with McTaggart's duty bag, where he keeps his ice rescue equipment.
McTaggart encouraged the man to swim towards the shoreline ice shelf and when two attempts at tossing rope to the man failed, McTaggart knew he had to venture onto the ice himself.
He was getting tired and his head was starting to go under," says McTaggart, who also trained as a lifeguard in his youth.
He removed his duty vest and belt, tied a rope around his chest, and began walking onto the ice as the other RCMP officers on scene held the rope acting as anchors. As the ice got thinner, McTaggart began crawling, continuing to speak with the man to keep him calm.
I could tell he was cold and his lips were turning blue. When I got to him, he said 'please help me.' I said I was going to but I need your help staying calm," says McTaggart, estimating the man spent between five and 10 minutes in the frigid river.
Once out of the water, first responders helped the man into a waiting ambulance and whisked him to the nursing station down the street while McTaggart stepped into a warmed police car and drove to be assessed.
The man was treated for minor injuries and McTaggart was released after seeing a nurse.
McTaggart credits his training for helping him remain calm during the incident.
S/Sgt. Ben Sewell helped introduce the ice rescue training to the Manitoba RCMP in 2011 after working in a remote community and frequently travelling on winter roads over frozen lakes, rivers and swamps.
I realized our members needed more advanced training for when they're on or near ice to be able to respond to emergencies and also be able to rescue themselves if there was an accident," says Sewell, noting that the province is home to more than 2,300 kilometres of winter roads.
The two-day training covers self-rescue techniques and in-water rescue techniques as well as rescue philosophy, emergency management and how to stay safe as a rescuer.
It's unique training and what happened in Grand Rapids is a good example showing this training is worth it," says Sewell.
A dozen Manitoba RCMP officers take the training each year. More than 90 ice-rescue trained officers work in the Manitoba North District.
It's training you hope you never have to use, but when the situation arises its good to have," says McTaggart.