GLADWYNE, Pa., (CBS) — Firefighters and rescue units are on alert for a growing threat from the bitter cold snap — a beautiful, but potentially deadly coating of ice luring unsuspecting people to rivers, lakes and ponds.

Members of the specially trained Gladwyne Fire Company Water and Ice Rescue Team, along with other fire units across the area, are on special alert as a pretty, but potentially deadly coating of ice forms on local waterways.

Members of the Gladwyne team say they fear, because of recent mild winters, many have forgotten how deceptive and dangerous ice can be on local ponds and the nearby Schuylkill River.

Assistant Chief John Remillard pointed out it takes only three minutes in the freezing water before a victim begins losing the ability to save themselves.

“Within like three minutes or so, the person’s not going to have the ability to pull himself out. He’s going to need help,” Chief Remillard said.

“It may look thick, but once you get to the center, it’s going to be thinner because you have moving water underneath,” Assistant Chief Mike Schwarz said.

Fire Company members were busy Wednesday evening checking ice rescue tools including inflatable ice sleds and survival suits. Chief Schwarz says often when one person becomes trapped, others try to make rescues, creating multiple victims.

Chief Schwarz adds it takes four inches of ice to support one 200-pound person. He also cautions that ice, which appears solid near shore, becomes less stable toward midstream because of currents flowing below. The ice may be a tempting curiosity, but Gladwyne firefighters advise unless an authorized expert gives approval — stay off the ice.

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