CALERA, Okla. (KTEN) — Two Calera firefighters are still thawing out after a recent trip to Iowa.

"The only I've ever done is chop ice out of a pond for a cow," said Chief Brian Norton. "Never have I ever decided, 'I should get underneath that,' you know?"

Buy that's exactly what Norton and one of his fellow volunteer firefighters set out to accomplish last month when they loaded up the car and drove more than  700 miles to West Okoboji Lake in Iowa to complete their ice dive training.

"It's probably very unlikely that we'll ever need to use it here in Oklahoma — especially in southeastern Oklahoma — but in that instance, we do it," Norton said. "Instead of waiting for the ice to melt to do anything, we have the training now to be able to cut the ice and go in."

Cold spells don't typically last very long in Texoma, but after all the ice we saw in the winter storm of 2021, Norton wants to stay prepared.

A Texas-based scuba diving training company was planning a trip with the dive shop in Norman that Calera trains with, so the chief took advantage of the opportunity.

"They've done it for several years now," Norton said. "Last year they said they had like almost two feet of ice, so they said it was a lot warmer this year ... I think when we were at about 30 feet, it was 34 degrees."

To avoid hypothermia, divers must pile on the gear.

"A lot of the equipment they use is the same we use on the fire department to do rope rescues and things, it's just a little bit different," Norton explained. 

The dry suits are actually hazmat suits, which are already stocked in Calera fire vehicles.

"A thermal layer that was meant to be under our dry suits,... then we were wearing our dry suits... so we were completely encapsulated, we were dry inside," Norton recalled. "But still, some parts of us were exposed, or the material was a bit thinner. There was no insulation in our gloves; there was no insulation around our heads."

Believe it or not, it wasn't the bone-chilling temperatures that got to Chief Norton.

"It's kind of weird ... if you go a little too high, in normal situations, you surface; your head pops up above the air, you drop back down. In this, you bounce your head off the bottom of the ice," he said. "That's a different feeling. At first, it kind of is a small claustrophobic – what am I hitting? What am I doing? Why is there something above my head?"

Besides the threat of the water, that confusion under the ice is part of why it can be so dangerous.

"When you're under the water — especially with ice — after about 10, 15 feet you can't tell the difference between the open hole and the ice above you. It's very easy to get lost," Norton said. "So you keep the tether, so — worst-case scenario — you can tug on it a bunch of times. Worst-case scenario, that tender above you will just pull you out."

The chief wouldn't describe the training as "fun," but he is excited to bring his new skills home to Bryan Count,  just in case frigid temperatures return to Texoma.