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Well, we did our ice rescue training a few weekends ago.


It was the usual rehash of what we do and say every year, a good refresher for everyone before the annual ice fishing derby the next weekend so we are ready with the know how fresh in our heads.


We have new dry suits and we used them for the first time.


They are different than our old suits. The old ones are neoprene and have begun developing pinholes in the last two years, so 4 new Stearns suits were purchased this year. The new suits are a nice bright orange color, and at first glance seem to be far superior to our old ones. There are more/ better straps to tighten the extremities to reduce the chance of an air pocket pushing you out of the hands or feet. The hands are more flexible and have a better tactile sensation then the old.


Then, there were the problems I encountered when I donned and used the suit. They are supposedly capable of fitting a person up to 6' and weighing 330lbs, and I am just short of each of those measurements.


My problems;


1. Getting my feet into the integrated feet. It was all but impossible to do alone. There are no straps to assist you in getting your foot seated in the boot and the thighs of the legs were barely big enough to allow me to get in with blue jeans on. Why isn't there a strap that passes from the outside of the leg to the inside after going under the foot. If there was, with a loop on each end, you could quickly and efficiently pull your foot into the suit. Must make to much sense. So, Stearns, you get a FAIL for ease of donning.


2. Adjusting the extremity straps. Not easy with the suit on. Now you have to have someone to help, taking more time and manpower. Again, Stearns, FAIL for resource management. Tying up two guys to get one in the water is wasteful. Make the straps with some material on the end that does NOT have velcro on it so it can be grasped with the suit hand and manipulated.


3. Ease of movement was fine when I was shuffling across the ice towards the h***, but as soon as I had to get down on my hands and knees, all the slack in the suit was gone and I could not move freely, increasing the time and amount of fatigue for the rescuer. Then, while in the water, a h*** opened in the seat of the suit right on the center seam, tearing equal distances from the seam in both directions. Am I to fat for the suit? Not according to the information panel on the suit. Am I to tall? Again, not according to the panel on the suit. Stearns, FAIL for ease of movement. Cut the material so that you can put your hands over your head without pulling up on the sides of the suit, and cut the crotch down a little lower so there is more room to move. I had to be helped to a standing position because I literally could not get my knees high enough from being on all fours to get a foot underneath me to stand up. I felt like I was hobbled. It was humiliating to have to be helped to my feet like that. DOUBLE FAIL.


Folks, that was some damn cold water. By the time I got to shore and doffed the suit I was shivering uncontrollably and had to be taken home to dry off and get some dry clothes on. I have never in my life gotten so cold, so fast. It took a good two hours to warm back up after that escapade. I will readily admit that none of the others had any problems with their suits, but I was the tallest rotund guy there. (I prefer the word rotund, but it still means FAT. Time for a diet.)


Maybe Stearns needs to change the parameters for sizing of their suits, maybe I needed the next size up. Then when we got back to the station and inspected the suit, it was found to have a patch already in the area of the tear. Yep, a brand new suit with a patch in it. We checked the other suits to see if it was actually a design feature, but no.


One thing is certain. I am dragging the old suits out and throwing the best one in the truck so I only have to worry about a pinhole here or there instead of a one and a half inch tear gushing water in on me.


Or better yet, I will stay on shore with my Safety Officer's helmet on and ensure everyone else is doing it safely. Yup, sounds good to me!!

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Comment by Alan Umgelter on February 27, 2011 at 9:35am
The new Sterns Suits are nice however they are not without limitations, unlike your old suits which were made from a neoprene foam the new material does not stretch. Perhaps Stearn's did not take into account this restriction when it came
to sizing. Finding a patch would warrant demand for a new undamaged suit aim high and see if they will provide compensation for the inconvenience and down time of your rescue capability. We received a new suit recently and it was promptly sent back for replacement as leaks were found. Also in the old suits if a catastrophic failure of the suits waterproof integrity was to occur you still had your buoyancy, this is not true of the new suits, you'll get cold wet and may sink.  Your old suits are not beyond help either, pinholes and minor leaks are fixable in house major tears and burst seams (in the neoprene suits) are fixable by someone skilled in wetsuit repair. Determine where the leaks are and get a tube of Aqua-seal from your local dive shop follow the directions and seal the leaks. A few pinholes are a usually only a nuisance, and often not noticed
until after several hours of training or when the suit is removed. My agency has suits that are over 15 years old, they have lots of Aqua seal on them but are still very usable.

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