September 23, 2019

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Don't leave your car, professor says

Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht, (a.k.a. Professor Popsicle), Professor of Thermophysiology, at the University of Manitoba, trains search and rescue crews at La Barriere Park on Saturday.

TREVOR HAGAN/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht, (a.k.a. Professor Popsicle), Professor of Thermophysiology, at the University of Manitoba, trains search and rescue crews at La Barriere Park on Saturday.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/1/2015 (1709 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It’s rule No. 1 for winter drivers: If your car breaks down on a less travelled road, what should you do?

a) Get out and walk for help.

b) Stay in your vehicle and wait for help.

It’s always b), said Professor Popsicle, aka Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht, Professor of Thermophysiology at University of Manitoba.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/1/2015 (1709 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It’s rule No. 1 for winter drivers: If your car breaks down on a less travelled road, what should you do?

a) Get out and walk for help.

b) Stay in your vehicle and wait for help.

It’s always b), said Professor Popsicle, aka Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht, Professor of Thermophysiology at University of Manitoba.

"Stay in your vehicle no matter what. Someone is going to come by," said Giesbrecht.

Giesbrecht led training sessions in Winnipeg this weekend for various search and rescue personnel. It is part of a series of the training sessions, called Baby It’s Cold Outside, being held across Canada, with a different focus at each. In Manitoba, training concentrates on the "stranded vehicle scenario" and lost hunters. Ontario training sessions deal with stranded snowmobilers and cross country skiers. In Alberta, training deals with avalanches and mountain-side rescues.

Staying with your vehicle is the correct answer when it stalls or slides into a ditch, but many people don’t follow that rule.

"What is it that forces people to leave a perfectly good shelter?" asked Giesbrecht. "They think help is closer than it is, and they think they can get farther than they can."

But every year people leave a stranded vehicle and never make it to where they’re going. Their bodies are later found frozen on a road or field.

Search and rescue personnel also urge motorists to stay with vehicles. Then they only have to make one search for the vehicle, not search for the vehicle and the occupant, said Sgt. Randy Antonio, coordinator of the Winnipeg police search and rescue team.

Even someone unprepared in freezing cold can survive overnight in a vehicle, Giesbrecht said. Your body alone produces the heat of about a 100 watt light bulb, and vehicles have a surprising amount of insulation, he said.

But people travelling in sparsely populated areas should always have survival gear along. In Giesbrecht’s case, he packs two kits in his trunk, since his wife may be accompanying him.

His duffel bag contains two parkas, pairs of boots, pants, socks, mitts, hats, and especially two sleeping bags. "Even a $30 Canadian Tire sleeping bag will do if you’re stranded in a vehicle overnight," he said. Most items can be used clothes found around the house.

Also carry matches and a candle, preferably one with a wide base so you can light it and just leave it on top of the dashboard. That also produces heat and a signal. "You can see (the light) from a long way down the road."

Then climb into the back seat where there’s more room, put on the spare clothes, and clamber inside the sleeping bag, boots and all. "If it’s -35, I can sit there all night. Come morning, I will not be hypothermic," he said. And if you can survive one night, you can survive two or three, he said.

Giesbrecht is a leading authority on hypothermia. He earned his Professor Popsicle nickname by leaping into frozen lakes and other tests of survival in the cold.

However, he conceded he’s never spent the night in a vehicle during winter. "I keep telling myself I need to spend a night in the car some time," he said.

Someone who has is Const. Alf Plantz, with the Winnipeg police search and rescue division. Plantz is the son of a northern trapper. He and his father would go on week-long moose hunting trips together north of Swan River, and sleep in the back of a station wagon. "We’d live in the back of the station wagon. It provides you a shelter," Plantz said.

Among those at the sessions are RCMP officers, the Manitoba Fire Commissioner’s Office, Search and Rescue Manitoba (partners of the Winnipeg police ground search and rescue unit) and the Winnipeg volunteer search and rescue team.

The sessions are being made into a DVD and website.

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

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