Local fire departments warn against going out on thin ice

While ice covering the Potomac and Anacostia rivers may look safe to walk on, it's recommended that people stay off it. (ABC7)

Due to the recent frigid weather in the nation’s capital, ice has formed on the Potomac and Anacostia rivers. But local fire departments warn that the ice on the rivers and other local bodies of water is not nearly thick enough to safely walk on it.

D.C. Fire & EMS Capt. William Griffin said, “It's never a good idea to get on any ice.”

“[If you fall through the ice] your first reaction is gonna be to gasp. And that's where a lot of people take in water, during that first gasp, just from the temperature of the water,” Griffin said. “And then you're probably going to go under and you won't be able to break through two inches of ice.”

The D.C. Fire & EMS Department is responsible for breaking up the ice on the Potomac and Anacostia rivers. And so far this winter, Griffin and his fire boat crew said they've only seen up to four inches of ice. Even then, it’s isolated and not consistent.

There is thicker ice in the C&O Canal where, in certain areas, ice skating is not prohibited.

“It's nice to get out and play some outdoor hockey when I get the chance,” Shaina Adler said.

Said Zach Silver, “It's been under 32 for the past week or so, so I've been pretty confident it was going to be cool."

But the National Park Service stresses that individuals are responsible for their own safety and they should never skate alone or without an adult.

Meanwhile, local first responders insist it's not worth the risk.

But in case of an emergency involving another skater or even a pet on the ice, they say bystanders should not attempt a rescue by venturing out to help. Instead, call 9-1-1.

In an emailed statement, National Park Service National Capital Region spokesperson Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles said:

“Ice skating is allowed on the C&O Canal except in the Widewater area (towpath mile markers 12.6 to 13.4, outside the beltway below great falls). Ice conditions are not monitored by park staff. In most watered areas, the C&O Canal ranges in depth from 6 feet to 15 feet and the canal maintains a constant flow of water beneath the ice.
Ice skating is also allowed on Constitution Gardens Lake. It is prohibited in all other areas at the National Mall including on the Tidal Basin and reflecting pool.
Rangers remind visitors that individuals are responsible for their own safety and a rescue is not guaranteed. If you decide to venture out, bring appropriate gear (extra clothing, high energy snacks and water) and be prepared to spend more time outside than anticipated.
Please use extreme caution, check the ice, and never ice skate alone or without an adult present. An ice thickness of at least four inches is recommended for skating.
While ice skating is not expressly prohibited in these areas, we encourage folks to find man made venues like the sculpture garden or other ice rinks in the greater DC area.”
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