Temperatures may be below freezing, but that doesn't mean that the ponds and bays are ready for skaters and the like.
In East Hampton Town, those trained in ice rescues have a message for anyone who will be outdoors this weekend: Stay off the ice.
Ice can be deceiving, according to Gerard Turza Jr., who serves in the East Hampton Fire Department as a lieutenant in the heavy rescue squad and the overseer of the dive team, which handles ice rescues.
Ponds really aren't safe until a prolonged period of cold weather, Turza said. "We've had a very mild winter so far. We would need a couple of weeks of super cold temperatures," he said.
On Friday morning, Volunteers with the North Sea Fire Department saved a woman who stepped out onto a freezing pond to save a dog, but ended up needing to be rescued herself after she fell through the ice.
Just Thursday, East Hampton First Assistant Chief Richard Osterberg Jr. said he was driving by Town Pond — a favorite for skaters — and saw three people walking around on it. "It has not been cold enough for that. The best thing to do is just stay off the ice," he said.
Turza, who also works as a village dispatcher, said if you do find yourself in a situation where a person or a pet falls through ice, the best thing to do is to immediately call 911 so that can help can get to you as quickly as possible.
"Throw them some type of object that will float. But you have to keep yourself out of harms way," he said. "Assure them help is coming — that part is huge," he said, noting that you want the person to remain as calm as possible.
Turza also warns not to go out on the ice after a dog has fallen through. "If the ice can't hold a 30-pound dog, what's it gonna do when a 150-pound person goes out?," he said.
Do not, he said, go out onto the ice and try to perform the rescue yourself. More often than not, you'll just become another victim.
The last ice rescue East Hampton Fire Department performed was the same type of situation as in North Sea on Friday. In 2005, a dog fell through the ice off Two Holes of Water on Christmas Eve, and its owner tried to save him, and fell in too. Rescuers pulled the person out, and the dog, with a little bit of coaxing, came out on its own, Turza recalled.
In East Hampton, the rescuers will respond as a department to any ice rescue, bringing a ladder truck, as well as its dive team trailer with ice rescue equipment. Volunteers are trained specifically in ice rescue, along with members of the East Hampton Townwide Dive Team.
Town Pond might be shallow, but others, like Hook Pond in East Hampton Village and Fort Pond in Montauk are quite deep. The ice may hold you one place, but not in another, Osterberg said. Scoy's Pond in the Northwest Woods has warm water from a natural spring and may not be as frozen as it appears on the surface, he said.
Officials keep a ladder near some of the deeper ponds, like Agawam Lake in Southampton Village, just in case. Turza said you can look for any similar object to extend toward to victim in the water.
The department is hopeful that residents and visitors will heed the warning. Turza's best advice? "Go to Buckskill. You can get hot chocolate and sit by the fire and it's safe."