By: Joanne M. Haas/WDNR Bureau of Law Enforcement
Three same-night rescues of snowmobile operators from near-death situations by Wis. Department of Natural Resources conservation wardens serve as safety reminders to all who enjoy the state's thousands of well-maintained trails.
The three wardens who handled the rescues coincidentally all serve on the same team - Peshtigo Warden Team in the northeast region. They are urging all snowmobilers to enjoy the season... BUT, please wait to enjoy that alcoholic beverage until you are home. And remember to keep your speed in check and know the trail or ice conditions.
DRINKING, SPEED AND OPEN WATER: 3 saves in one February night
On Saturday, February 1, Warden Clark Delzer was enjoying a quick night meal with a couple of Shawano County Sheriff Department deputies when the 911 call came in about a snowmobiler in the water. But, wait! The citizen who initially called 911 followed up with, it looked like another snowmobiler was crossing the ice-covered Shawano Lake toward them to help. That sounded promising until it turned out to be a second snowmobiler, not connected to the first driver, who unknowingly was aimed for the same 100 yards of open water that surprised that first sled operator.
Warden Clark, however, didn't know that last part when he immediately left the eatery in his truck with his snowmobile in tow and headed for Shawano Lake. By now the lake was socked in with fog -- not to mention it also was really dark.
However, way in the distance, Warden Clark could see a flashing light that turned out to be the person who called 911. Warden Clark knew he could only get so far in his truck. So he parked and continued on to reach the area on his snowmobile, where he could see a pressure crack had opened about 100 yards of water. That's where the first snowmobiler was -- and had been -- for about 20 minutes.
Time was not on Warden Clark's side to save the man fighting to survive in the frigid water. Warden Clark utilized his personal flotation device (life jacket) and positioned himself to toss the rope to the man. Somehow, the man followed Warden Clark's directions to grab and to hold the rope -- even though his hands were severely cramping as the hypothermia was setting in fast. Warden Clark pulled the man to the edge of the water and, because the man could no longer use his hands to grab Warden Clark's, Warden Clark grabbed a handful of the man's jacket to drag him onto the ice.
As Warden Delzer transported the man across the lake ice to shore for medical treatment, word came that a second snowmobiler -- the one previously assumed coming to help -- had gone in the same open water. Warden Clark delivered the first man, did a quick reverse and returned to the open water. There, he found the second man had pulled himself out of the water and was on the ice. Warden Delzer moved fast and got this second man back to shore for medical care.
Meanwhile, in nearby Marinette County, Wardens Tim Werner and Dale Romback were on their patrols and noticed an extremely faint light in a wooded area. Knowing that didn't look right, the two ventured into the area to see what was going on.
The light was a damaged snowmobile which had struck a post and crashed. The faint light was the headlight aimed into the sky. The operator was unconscious with severe head wounds. The wardens called for the emergency medical crews. But the ambulance got stuck in the snow. The wardens then wasted no time to transport the injured man in the warden truck to another ambulance where the man was rushed to hospital.
The emergency room doctor told the wardens the snowmobile operator would have died without the wardens' fast and trained intervention.
Two of the three operators rescued that night face operating-while-intoxicated charges.
REGULAR TRAINING - how a warden knows what to do
Wardens Clark, Tim and Dale know how to handle these life-threatening situations because of regular trainings to test their skills and to continually improve.
Here's the scene at an early February snowmobile training for newly hired conservation wardens.
SAFETY is part of the snowmobile fun!
Warden Clark, Tim and Dale encourage you to enjoy the winter and the thousands of trails Wisconsin enjoys thanks to hundreds of volunteers from area snowmobile clubs.
The wardens' top safety tips are:
If you have information regarding natural resource violations, you may confidentially report by calling or texting: VIOLATION HOTLINE: 1-800-TIP-WDNR or 1-800-847-9367. The hotline is in operation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Trained staff relay report information to conservation wardens.