Lake Park man safe after frigid fall in Silver Lake

Tuesday, December 4, 2018
Photos by Mike Ehret, Dickinson County Emergency Management coordinator

A 78-year-old Lake Park man said he likely would have died Thursday morning if a neighbor hadn't reacted so quickly.

Dennis Gildemeister fell through the ice on Silver Lake and spent around 22 minutes in the frigid water, according to the Dickinson County Sheriff's Office. His body temperature plunged as first responders turned on their flashing blue lights and used the center turn lane to circumvent traffic up Highway 71.

Their 911 call came in at approximately 8:24 a.m. that morning, and nine different agencies reported to the scene. Gildemeister said the sound of the sirens gave him an extra burst of hope and kept him from giving up entirely. Three specially-trained members of the Lake Park Fire Department worked their way across the ice toward Gildemeister.

"He was hanging onto the edge of the ice," Dickinson County Sheriff Greg Baloun said. "His godsend was that someone saw him go in. Neighbors up the road were watching him walk out there."

Gildemeister has owned a house on the shore of Silver Lake since 1988, and has lived there year-round since 2002. He said he goes out on the ice three to five times a week during the winter to fish.

"I'm not the brightest star in the sky, evidently from going in like that, but I am normally safe," he said.

He set out across the ice from his shoreline as he had done countless times before and walked toward a favored fishing spot.

"I was checking the ice as I went," Gildemeister said. "It was a good 6 inches thick. When I got out there a quarter-of-a-mile, maybe a little bit more, it just didn't look safe in that spot. I had my ice spud I was checking the ice with as I walked and, like a dummy, I tapped the ice where it looked thin, and down I went."

Dickinson County Emergency Management recommends at least 4 inches of ice for ice fishing, and says anything less than 2 inches should not be relied upon.

"Ice is never 100 percent safe to be on," Baloun said. "What's good today may not be good tomorrow."

Gildemesiter agreed.

"You can never been too safe on ice," he said. "I don't care if it's a foot thick. There can be a week spot."

The Dickinson County Emergency Management Office encourages frozen lake travelers to carry a pair of ice picks or long nails to get out of water and back onto safer ice. Gildemeister said he carries a pair of picks he made 30 years ago.

"I never ever go out on the ice without those around my neck," he said. "Well, this one time, I left them in my little sled. I tried getting them, but my sled went under on me, of course."

The sheriff was unsure exactly how deep the water was for the 78-year-old that day, but Silver Lake's maximum depth is 8 feet, according to a recent engineering study. Gildemeister said the 22 minutes he spent in the water felt like an eternity as he fought for his life.

"I went completely under a couple times, and I'd look up and I could see the hole so I'd know where to go up again not a good trip."

Soon, he believed it was the end.

"I knew I was a goner. I had given up," Gildemeister said. "Then I heard the sirens from town. Thank God for the EMTs and those rescue guys. It's unbelievable."

The Arnolds Park/Okoboji Fire Department's airboat was on scene to carry Gildemeister to a boat ramp, where an ambulance was waiting to whisk him to Lakes Regional Healthcare. Baloun said it took another eight minutes to get Gildemeister to the airboat after rescuing him from the water. Gildemeister said the rescuers were a welcome sight as they whisked him away to Lakes Regional Hospital. He was given warm fluids upon arrival and, while he admits his perception of time wasn't reliable in that condition, he estimated his chilled tremors stopped within an hour if not sooner.

"I was brought back to life, believe me," Gildemeister said.

Chilled blood trapped in the extremities can potentially rush back to the heart as a victim warms up, according to Dickinson County Emergency Management, and the shock can cause a heart attack or death.

Gildemeister was able to return home within days.

"I am feeling great," Gildemeister said, accentuating each word. "I tell you, once you're given a second chance at life, everything looks a lot rosier on the other side than it did."

He said he's been flooded with cards and well wishes from the community, and he's finding the task of thanking everyone to be impossible.

"There can't be enough thanks to go around," he said. "I'm just thanking God those guys heard the call from 911, and got here as quick as they could from Spirit Lake with the ambulance and airboat."

In addition to the sheriff's office, the Dickinson County Communications Center, Dickinson County Emergency Management, Lake Park Fire Department, Lake Park Rescue, Lake Park Police Department, Lakes Regional Healthcare Ambulance, Arnolds Park/Okoboji Fire Department and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources played a part in the rescue effort.

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