It’s time… to meet Professor Popsicle! On this episode of the Child Safety Source, we’re talking to Gordon Giesbrecht!
Gordon Giesbrecht, Ph.D. is a professor of Thermophysiology and Associate Dean in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Recreation Management at the University of Manitoba. Now, the big question is: why did we call him Professor Popsicle? Well, Professor Gordon studies human responses to exercise and work in extreme environments… and throughout his career, he has conducted hundreds of cold water immersion studies. In fact, these studies have provided life-saving information about human hypothermia. This line of work has affectionately dubbed him “Professor Popsicle!”
Deep Diving with Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht
Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht has also conducted over one-hundred vehicle submersions… with people in them! Of course, these submersions were all part of an experiment! Ultimately, the goal was to study survival and exit strategies for people trapped inside sinking vehicles.
As you can imagine, Gordon is a pretty interesting guy. In addition to these feats, he has helped to create instructional educational programs, such as Cold Water Boot Camp. Furthermore, he has written protocols that are used by Emergency Response Operators around the globe.
Want to hear more about Gordon’s fascinating life? In this video, he speaks with Life Saver Pool Fence’s president, Eric Lupton, about his career and findings:
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Below is a direct transcript of the Child Safety Source interview with Gordon Giesbrecht from September 20th, 2018:
#44 Gordon Giesbrecht
Eric Lupton: And that’s it, we are live on the Internet. It’s like magic. How are you doing Gordon?
Gordon Giesbrecht: I’m fantastic, Eric.
Eric: Yeah, so um, we were just talking that we had met at the NDPA conference in Fort Lauderdale which I think was my first one. Had you been to prior NDPA’s before?
Gordon: That… no, that was my first one as well.
Eric: Have you been back?
Gordon: I think… I was just gonna say, I think it’s my only one.
Eric: It’s really cool
Gordon: …it hasn’t worked out yet.
Eric: Yeah, it was a great conference. So, if you went to one that was a good choice it may be my favorite one. It went really well, I liked that one quite a bit.
Gordon: There are a lot of people who are interested in preventing drowning, and drowning is a tragic event that is so often preventable. And so, folks who are trying to decrease the drownings in the world is… it’s a good group of people to be with.
Eric: But, you’re doing really, really cool work I’ve heard. I think it’s Mr. Mario Mattone, he’s done a lot of stuff with you too, right?
Gordon: Yes, it’s on the web; it’s called Cold Water Boot Camp. There’s two of them or Beyond Cold Water Boot Camp where we took some people…actually, ran them through and we call it a real reality show. And, he was one of our real people.
Eric: Bob Pratt just commented that he loves Cold Water Boot Camp and not only just to see Mario miserable
Gordon: But, you know, because of how good it is also made people call that’s for sure. Then again, the message there was how not to drown or die of hypothermia and if you end up in cold water.
Eric: So, I mean, let’s get right to that, you know. If someone falls in the cold water, what should they do?
Gordon: Well, the first thing is don’t panic. So, we have what’s called the 1:10:1 principle and it’s basically, if you end up in cold water, don’t panic and remember you have one minute to get your breathing under control, ten minutes of meaningful movement and one hour before you become hypothermic due to frost; you know, hypothermia. And yeah, so a lot of people, most people think if you end up with cold water you’re gonna die of hypothermia within minutes, and most people recognize that you can die from hypothermia. So, that kind of leads the average person who doesn’t know any better to panic because they think they’re going to die right away. And, panic very seldom improves your decision-making process. And, the reality is, if you know that you’re not like the human body for an adult, especially we’re a big chunk of meat, and it takes a long time to cool it off. And so, he put, you know, we do experiments with people with a bathing suit on in 80 degree water which is like 40 degrees Fahrenheit. And it still takes us an hour to get them to be mildly hypothermic. So, if you recognizes you’re not going to die right away to go, and that will help you not panic. And then, you just recognize that you have to follow basis that there are three phases in cold water immersion. The first one is the cold shock response which is just sort of lost within seconds to a minute and that’s we’ve all experienced this when we have about…you’ve got a sudden, you get in the shower, you turn the wrong nob to get cold water and you gasp
Eric: Yeah, we saw is that when they did the ice bucket challenge, right, these are people having that, you know, cold water shock response on the internet, you know.
Gordon: Whole shock response would you a gasp followed by hyperventilation. And, if you don’t panic, that will pass, you know, within 10 to 30 seconds and then, you know, like it feels like life is over when you first hit cold water, especially if it’s a surprise, you know. But, then once you’re breathing gets under control, you can actually… you still feel terrible but not so much like you’re gonna die anymore. And then, you recognize okay, well I could still do something. So, you make a plan but as you are in the water longer your muscles and nerves become colder and then they start not to work as well, and you start to have cold incapacitation. So, you have cold shock response, cold incapacitation and then hypothermia. So, that ten minutes of meaningful movement It says… okay, I’ve got more than ten seconds, I’ve got some minutes. I can work with here, you know, where do I go, how can I get up, how can I get, you know, my boat over there? I could swim quickly over to it, dark, you know, there’s a life raft here. I can climb into it or I fallen through the ice. I could get up on the ice as opposed to just sitting there, you know, panicking and thrashing around and then nine. So yeah, one minute to get your breathing under control, ten minutes of meaningful movement and one hour before you become, unconscious due to hypothermia; 1:10:1
Eric: 1:10:1, I like it. So, besides teaching about that, what else was cold water boot camp?
Gordon: Well, so in that we first just went through our TV guests in the water and see how they, you know, they didn’t do very well, couldn’t swim very far; they were hyperventilating. The other thing is if you’re gonna swim somewhere, it’s best to wait till the hyperventilation…and then start swimming, because if you start swimming right away while you’re still breathing heavy then you’re starting to breathe heavy because you’re swimming. Then you start to panic a bit and that is heavy. I own… I have hyperventilation and that’s the ball feeds into itself and before you know it, you can’t control your breathing and you’re trying to swim. And it’s very interesting, we don’t think about it much. But, you can think about it as you go for your daily routine; often we train our movements to our breathing and we’re walking when we’re jogging, especially when we’re swimming, you know, like a longer doing the crawl of course. You have to breathe when your heads over the log so that’s pretty simple to recognize, but even when you’re doing a breast stroke or something, you’re usually breathing with your stroke. So now, if you get your breathing completely out of control… now figure out, how do I do a meaningful swim stroke? And so, it all just when you’re swimming, isn’t it’s good you get more trouble you hyperventilate more, you panic more, you swim worse and then the next thing you know, you know, 30 second, you know. You all heard stories of, you know, the guy fell out of the boat or whatever and, you know, 30 seconds later he drown; that’s part of the reason why.
Eric: So, you put your people in the water and underwater boot camp,
Gordon: And, yeah, right, so then they, you know, and then we went through… So, there you go you see how tough it is and then we had a classroom session that was a few hours long that’s been distilled into separate sections. And, we talked about, you know…we call it different chapters or just, you know, hypothermia, you know, what’s the cold shock response we talked about that the three phases of cold water immersion. We also talked about self-rescue techniques, how to treat somebody with hypothermia. And then, we went out in the next day and we did some more exercises, only this time, you know, the idea was that they now have more knowledge and, you know, their testimonials said that, you know, they did a lot better now that they knew what to expect; even the tough guys like Mario, you know, a Coast Guard rescue swimmer, retired now, but not then, you know. So, boy it was, you know, because Coast Guard swimmers, they usually got all the gear on right and they’re trying to rescue people who don’t have all the gear on, don’t have the thermal protection on, and… but when he, you know, when he, you know, all the rest of the folks we had on the show, it’s a pretty interesting wake-up call when you end up in cold water without any thermal protection on
Eric: And, if I recall rate, you guys kept him in until he was hypothermic right?
Gordon: No, no, we kept we all the, you know, we were on the… not in a controlled situation like in our lab.
Eric: So, maybe there was a lab test he did with you all, you know.
Gordon: He might have done one but I don’t think was in cold water boot camp. But anyway, for most of those, we do had people in like for 10-15 minutes at the most times were, based on my experience, I know they’re not getting hypothermic because we, you know, we didn’t have any monitoring put them out in the middle of the ocean…well in the middle of the ocean or out in the ocean or yeah and I should say the bottom one of the bottom lines from all of that work is just recognize that if you fall in cold water, they’ve got the 1:10:1 principle and all of that. But, you know, unless you can grab something that floats, you’re gonna drown. So, it all gets back to our number-one principle, any time you get in the boat, especially in cold water, you should have a PFD or a life jacket on because that changes everything. Because, you know, one of the tests we did, I think it was… maybe it was a pre-cold water boot camp video we did up in the state of Alaska, and we did sort of the test. It was one person with a life jacket, one without and it. Was yeah, in Homer Alaska and it was very interesting because it was a guy and a gal the guy had a light jacket on, and he’d jump in and he was flailing around like crazy. And like, the idea was we were going to try and stay and keep the two of them together. And you know, the gal started swimming as we instructed. And, he wasn’t swimming at all, so we actually had to split up and we, you know, we have two boats into camera crews. And, we left the camera with this the camera crew and a special forces Rescue Service to take care of them and we thought well, we’ll have to go back, I don’t know what his problem is over figured out later and then we followed the gal who didn’t have a life jacket on. So, finally, she had cold water incapacitation, she couldn’t swim anymore as they expected. We took her out of the water and we were interviewed, tell us about your experience, you know. And as I was talking to her, I could see over her shoulder all of a sudden, this guy started swimming by and I don’t know where he came from. So, we finished there then we went and caught up to him and brought him out into the boat to talk to him and, you know, I said like what …so what haven’t looked like you were having a real tough time though. He says, yeah as soon as I hit the cold water, I couldn’t breathe anymore. I couldn’t do anything, I was thrashing around trying to keep my head above water and, you know, within about a minute, I was completely exhausted, and I couldn’t do it anymore. Like, you know, I just climbed** and then I realized hey, I’ve got a life jacket on. So, I just floated there for a while and got it and got my act together and then I could swim. He was swimming fastest, but without a life jacket he would’ve drowned in 30 seconds.
Eric: For sure. Absolutely, you know, so what should people do if they’d fallen into the ice? Because, I know the protocol there is interesting.
Gordon: Well, yeah, the first thing you still remember the 1:10:1 principle, you know, once the breathing under control. So, first of all, some ice water that’s, you know, 32 degrees Fahrenheit, zero degrees Celsius, you know, the average person thinks man, I’m gonna die right away. And in this water, you feel like you’re gonna die right away and if you remember the 1:10:1 principle, you know, I’m not going to be hypothermic even in ice water for a long time, whether it’s six an hour or 50 minutes or whatever, it doesn’t matter, you better have your problem-solve long before that. And, I will have some minutes where I can do something, I just have to get my breathing under control. Another thing we kind of say, you know, if you can survive the first minute I’m just going to survive the first minute and then your chances will exponentially. So, you know, basic grab onto the ice normally, when you break through the ice, you know, you’re close to the ice because you’re walking, you’re skiing, if you’re snowmobiling and all of a sudden you hit open water and you might end up 100 yards from the ice edge. But, that’s a different story and you’re in big trouble. So, you know, get to the ice and just put your arms on the ice, get your breathing under control. And then…so, this part the one part, you know, people say well, how do you get your breathing under control? It’s pretty simple, just pick… just take some deep just (slow inhale) fortunate… because you’re gonna be (fast inhales), you stop (slow inhale) take some slow deep breaths and that’ll stop the whole chain of events. Then, you’ll be able to breathe normally and then you can think clearly, and you can start planning, okay, now I’ve got to get out. So, then the next thing is to figure out where do I want to get back up on the ice. And most of the time, especially you’re walking, you’re skiing, you were on ice that would hold you and you’ve gone to ice that has become thinner. So, this is part of the why you don’t want to panic, because when you panic, you tend to… you do whatever you’re doing and your eyes open up they stay open; you don’t look around you stay focused on whatever is in front of you. And, if you actually start doing anything or going in any direction, it tends to go where you’re looking. So, if you panic, you’ll tend to go straight ahead try to get out ahead of you and you have just gone into an area of thin ice. So, the odds are the ice in front of you is still thin or even thinner. So, once you’ve got your breathing under control, you can start to think clearly and you say oh well, I just came from here, I’m gonna turn around and try and get back up on there, cuz that ice is presumably thicker because it was holding me. So, arms on the ice and then it’s just called the kick and pull method. Most people or it’s not uncommon that people will try to lift themselves straight up out of the water like you might do on a swimming pool deck, which is fine. Because, in the swimming pool deck all you’re wearing is a bathing suit so you …and you’re not freezing and all these other things. So, that’s possible but…and when you’re in the ice water, you’ve got some kind of clothing on, or maybe a lot, it’s not water log. So, when you try to lift yourself out of the water, the water and your clothing, once it gets above the water, you know, and its weight and it’s very difficult. So, we say put your arms on the ice and then, so you’re kind of like this and then say kick your feet. And, what will happen is the back of your body will come up horizontal with the ice edge and then you just pull yourself along the ice and see, you’re not really lifting anything very high, gotta get it up alone the ice
Eric: And you kind of swim out right.
Gordon: Well, kick and pull oh you’re kicking your feet if you’re with somebody else. You can instruct them on this and yell and scream at them, there’s no sound level limit whatever it takes to make them do it, just yell pick and pull and an event you’ll get up there and then, you know, you’re still not out of the woods you can you get a crawl or roll away from the hole a little bit before you stand up very careful, and probably follow you’re your trail back because it was holding you at one time.
Eric: That’s perfect. Okay, it’s not intuitive, you know.
Gordon: No, it’s not. The other thing is, and the importance of stopping and thinking and it is not completely unheard of the two people fall through the ice, two people on a snowmobile, it breaks through now you’ve got two people. The tendency will be each person works on their own, they’re trying to get up on the ice and I know that just in demonstrations, I’ve been in two situations where the ice kept breaking and couldn’t get up. And, the first time we were doing a television video reduction, and we remember okay, unless we don’t both have to get up at the same time, right. So, two people working alone and it was two people’s weight on the ice at the same time, so that was double the weight. So, we took turns, well you go first, and I’ll go and, you know, now there’s half the weight on the ice. No problem, got up and it wasn’t quite necessary in that case, but it could give some help, I could have pushed him up or vice versa and then he could have turned around help hold me up or gone to get something whatever. So again, it just takes the, you know, stop is a very important acronym STOP in any kind of emergency or urgent situation; stop, think, observe, plan, and you can do a lot of observation even in 20 seconds. You just stop and say, you know, I’m getting really tired, I can’t get up. So, how can I solve this problem, and it’s interesting just well this winter, I was I was doing an ice rescue of course and then we were done and I had a thermal protection suit on so there’s no problem. And, the ice was… like there’s no way we could have offered that course even four days later, because the ice is very thin. It was fun because we were breaking through a lot and we could practice wrestling because that’s part of what we’re doing. But, the class is over it, there were still people around. So, I went on I’m going to go out here and just try this, because I know it’s pretty thin out there. And so I walked out and I broke through and I could not get up on the ice and what I ended up having to do is, they had to keep breaking the ice all the way to shore which was like a hundred yards. I was exhausted when it was done and, you know, and then people were saying well, we should get a rope or something and I say well, I’m okay. If I didn’t have a thermal protection suit on, I would take you up on your honor. But, I’m just trying to see what I need to do here and… but it was interesting because there was another guy, he had done the same thing, he was closer to shore and even though… even though I’ve been doing this for years, I didn’t stop to think okay is there another alternative here. And, the two of us could have come to each other, we could have, you know, we would had to break the ice. But, we would have got there and then one of us could have helped the guy, you know, because we were very close just get up and it would break. But, you just have a little boost we could have probably made it never… I didn’t think about that till about a week later. But yeah, so you know, not that it was that complicated a problem, just needed to stop and think and it’s very difficult even when you plan it. So, we just, you know, the first two words don’t panic. Think about what you’re doing very, very important.
Eric: And, I like that stop acronym, I think I’d probably use that in life actually it’s a good one.
Gordon: Yep, because hey, you know, when someone breaks her leg, when someone thinks, you know. Everybody thinks if someone faints what we would do, dude you gotta stand him up right, get him up, get him up. Well, actually maybe, maybe not. They are maybe on the floor for a reason unless they are lying on a knife or something or bunch of broken glass. Is not hurting them really, maybe I should just leave them sit there and think about this a bit, what’s the problem?
Eric: It makes good sense. So, I’m sure… I mean, you talked about, you know, yourself in the water. If I recall correctly, you’ve used yourself as a test subject a lot of times in this cold water scenarios, is that right?
Gordon: Yeah, it’s 40 and old, and I’ve now retired from getting really cold, my life model now is the caucus the Christmas spirit and then it’s much better to give them to receive. But, I’ve been hypothermic 40 times.
Eric: Why, as a person that hates the cold and is from Florida that sounds like the worst idea I could possibly give.
Gordon: Well, it’s interesting, I hate the cold too. People say oh, you must love the cold, I say well no, I actually hate the cold. Think about oncologists, you know, oncologist becomes an expert in cancer doesn’t mean he wants it. So uh, you know, I say well you know what you have to do is do it or think about what I’m telling you and do what I do, and what I’ve learned because what I do when I get in cold water, unless you know for a demonstration, you know, I’m trying to figure out how to get out of it as fast as possible. Because, I’m not enjoying myself. But, when I started doing my master’s thesis back in 19…I shouldn’t give the date…1986, you know, we need to make people hypothermic three times to do a test, a study and so I became to subject the three reasons; one is I needed a subject, two, I wanted to be able to empathize with my other subjects and to be able to tell them hey, I have done this I’m not asking you to do something that I wouldn’t do, and I know how it feels and then the other thing is, you know, I experienced, you know, the whatever we were studying which gave me a little more insight into the actual results and a little more authority I bet I have had on the occasion, not much in the latter years but early on. People might challenge me and a few things and I would go, we allow this… this isn’t just to graph on a piece of paper, I’m one of those data points, I’m telling you this is the way it works. So, we want to argue some more and go ahead and not usually that’s about. So, yeah so, there’s three reasons for yeah, so either through different studies or demonstrations, it’s been 40 times
Eric: Which that’s… like, I said I hate the cold so much, even the prospect that is making me upset right now. It’s a yeah, I couldn’t even think about it. If it gets below 50 outside, I try not to leave the house. 50 Fahrenheit, you know, it’s just it’s too much for me I can’t do it. But, you know, so I mean you talked about doing this as your master’s thesis, you know, when you were a pretty young guy. you know. I mean 30-something years ago, um 32 years ago. I imagine it means you were probably you know three or four years old when you graduated college, um you know, looking at your age and you know how long it was. But, why you, why…. Yeah, you look about 40 right. I mean you do, maybe it’s the cold water it kept you young, you know. But, so why this you know why this topic?
Gordon: Well mmm, I took a year in University right out of high school, hated it, I escaped through the mountains for the fund raising ** six years and so while I was in Albert NBC, I was a wilderness instructor, mountaineering, whitewater, canoeing things like that. And so, with clients, we’re around the campfire every night, always have a talk about some topic that always included you know first aid would always also included hypothermia and frostbite. So, I had an interest in that… in all those topics, but especially hypothermia and frostbite. And so, we then eventually I came back to work, because I always said I really should finish my degree, finish whatever we start, and even if we don’t use it later, its good if you finish it what will be good for you. So, I wrote a paper in my undergrad classes, you know, prevention and **. And so, in writing that paper, you know, I viewed like 20 papers or so in the literature and so that I now had to be interested in topic but I also had a rudimentary knowledge of the literature in the area, and then I graduated and I’d done 30 well and was encouraged to go to grad school so in my master’s thesis, I was looking for a topic and I had this areas I was interested in and I had I knew about the literature in the area. So, that’s what made me picked that area.
Eric: Thanks, Bob Pratt wanted me to ask you, he says “Please ask Dr. Giesbrecht if he still advocates checking for breathing / pulse for 1 minute, 3 minute ventilations checking for another minute before beginning compressions. Sadly the ill core ILC or Stander’s treat all drowning as an afterthought chapter 10 between avalanche and electrical shock and they don’t cover cold water drowning at all.
Gordon: Okay, so that’s actually combining several topics together. So what do you do was, you know, we’ve been talking about what do you do as a potential victim. Now, we’re moving into what you do as the responder, whether you’re a train or untrain responder. And, that’s a good question, so the one… the checking for pulse for a minute relates to non-drowning hypothermia. Someone is found in the snow somewhere, so basically or they’re found, you know, with a life jacket on, their heads out of the water. So, if you haven’t drowned we’ll talk about that for a moment. Okay, so this is non drowning straight-up cold stress hypothermia, laying in the snow maybe hold someone out of an avalanche but that’s a bit different as well… that’s more like drowning because it’s like being affiliated yourself. But, you know, most hypothermia cases are basically cold air exposure of some type. So, as you… so there are three levels of hypothermia; there are actually four levels of cold stress the Wilderness Medical Society guidelines stated this way, and I’m a co-author on that, you know, core temp I’m gonna have to give you Celsius here because I can’t convert all of these numbers to Fahrenheit but very well 98.6 Fahrenheit is normal 37 degrees Celsius is normal, the actually can’t convert a few of them; the clinical threshold for hypothermia mild hypothermia is Fahrenheit 35 Celsius and now I wouldn’t have to go Celsius so mild hypothermia is 435 down to 32 degrees Celsius so when I give those temperatures that’s core temperature which means the heart lungs and brain. And, moderate hypothermia is 32 down to 28 and during that period as you’re cooling there, you’re going to eventually become unconscious and then severe hypothermia is from 28 and lower. And, that is, that threshold 28 degrees C is the threshold for severe hypothermia because at any point from there on, your heart is in danger at risk of stopping; and death from hypothermia is generally when your heart …cause by your heart stop. Now, you find someone laying in the snow and they’re unconscious, so you don’t know are they moderately hypothermic and their heart’s still beating, or are they really severely hypothermic in their heart stopped. You have to figure this out because what we do with unconscious people laying on the street is you know we start thumping on their chest right away, because we think they’ve had a heart attack. So, it’s important the one principle with… well the general treatment for hypothermia there’s lots of levels but the first two points is are these, no matter what this situation, is gentle and horizontal; treat your victim or your patient gently, don’t drag them around and treat them roughly, and keep them horizontal. Of course, if they’re unconscious that’s not a problem…about the horizontal part because they’re already there. But, the general part is very important and once you’ve become unconscious, your heart is really cold but still working and you actually can put them into ventricular fibrillation by rough handling. So, if you’d left them along their heart would have kept working you know, but if you drag them around, you might put them into ventricular fibrillation.
Eric: What is that, ventricular fibrillation?
Gordon: The heart generally pumps like normally, fibrillation just those like this, so it’s not that… there’s some action but it’s not pumping blood, and if you don’t pump blood long enough then everything dies and then your heart just stop, or the heart could just go into full arrest by the way; it doesn’t really matter, the point is you put somebody into fibrillation or arrest out in the field, you’ve almost killed them. You’re still now gonna try and revive them, but your odds are much less. So, you don’t want to start CPR, which is by definition rough handling. You know, we have people who complain about having broken ribs with people doing CPR right, which is fine if you need to do CPR. So, you need to figure that out. So, long way to get around to this, when someone is unconscious, you need to know… you’re trying to figure out if their hearts working, I don’t want to do CPR, if it is not working, I need to do CPR. How do you figure that out? You know, well so you need to take a pulse, so you want to first of all do a crow that calls. Don’t bother trying on the wrist, because that’s a frozen limb. There may be no blood flow there anyway, or if it is, it’s a very small blood flow going through frozen tubes so trying to feel it there is not going to work. And the reality is the heart might only be working my only meeting four or five times a minute, so if I go like this I feel nothing and say no, nothing going on, I better start when I could have been doing that in between heartbeats. There’s a heartbeat… might be eight seconds apart. So, that’s why we say, take one full minute to check for pulse and breathing, and pulse and breathing. Because, if you can you can note that they’re breathing, well you don’t need to feel a pulse anymore if their breathing their hearts working right. And so, if you get either or of those signs, stop, do not do CPR because if you do it might kill your patient like that. Now, if after a full minute and you should do it by the clock because we are all trained to start CPR right away and to wait a minute seems like forever, so have somebody time a minute for you and if you still might… they still might have a very weak pulse but after a minute, if you haven’t if you haven’t determined either a pulse or ventilation then you can assume the heart’s not working and you can start CPR.
Eric: And so, the rest of the question was, breathing pulse, one minute, three minute middle aces checking for another minute before beating compressions. Yeah, I think we covered most of it.
Gordon: Yeah, so let me go a minute…
Eric: Three minute of compression.
Gordon: Yeah, so you’re gonna start CPR and then you want to even stop and check again right, because you know we always do, we do not supposed to check as the ideas a CPR is to restart the heart, looking over three minutes and then check again. There are different versions of what happens after… well there are there’s a lot of people who don’t think you should wait the minute, we can’t wait a minute; there are different theories of what happens after that but the most important thing is this part, that is to give them that minute to try and find, see if they have a heartbeat or not.
Eric: So, if you do, I mean, yeah you do, you know, get breathing or a pulse there’s no reason for CPR, they do a bit of a problem
Gordon: So now, you just have a hypothermic victim severely hypothermic, and now you have to really be gentle keep the horizontal; now you want to get them insulated from the ground, you need to wrap them up in as much insulation as you can. Often, you’ll be in a group that they you’ve got backpacks you might have you know, sleeping bag, somebody might have a sleeping bag. You should have a vapor barrier, so we tell folks that even if you’re going camping, of course you’ve got everything you need because you’re planning to sleep in a tent in a sleeping bag that night. But, even if you pull… this is a very important point; anytime you walk away from safety, I Drive my car to a parking lot, I’m now going out on the trail head, let me do a hike where I’m gonna go skiing somewhere, anytime while you’re at the cabin and you’re skiing off into the bush from your cabin, anytime that you go away from safety, you should ask yourself two questions; do I have the equipment and the expertise I need to be able to spend the night where I’m going. And so, the equipment is you know, the most important; fire started, but of course with fire starter comes the expertise; can I light a fire; it doesn’t… you can have a blowtorch, it doesn’t matter you’re useless and you never lit a fire before, you still might freeze to death. But, you know, and whether I have a piece of plastic, so you should always have some kind of date back with you, you know, which at the minimum should have a piece of, you know, eight by eight plastic inner that I could make an emergency shelter with… or I could wrap somebody up in if, you know, if one of my colleagues gets cold or if we stumble upon somebody. So, you know, if you seriously ask yourself the question, do I have the equipment and the expertise required to allow me to survive the night if something happens later on today? And then act accordingly, no I don’t want going back to get the stuff and then that makes it big different and 95% this is an actual… it’s a real statistic, not like people just make them up, but 95% of search and rescues are ended within 24 hours. You know, so if you can survive one night, you know, chances are you gonna be found the next day. But, if you can survive that first night healthy, and there’s no reason why you can’t survive a second night or a third night right. If you haven’t frostbitten your hands, you know, if you’re not stuck out there because you broke your leg or something, you’re lost or you sprained your ankle, look you’re, you know, you don’t have some kind of life-threatening injury, you know can you survive that first night healthy, why can’t you do it again? You might get hungry, might start getting thirsty, you’ll be miserable but, you know, that’s it. But, if you can’t light a fire for instance, you know then then you you’re really… you’re really diminishing your probabilities especially beginning in that second and third night.
Eric: That makes a lot of sense, and I think you know, like boating like a lot of these things that the mistake comes in the planning stage, you know…
Gordon: Lack of planning stage
Eric: Your lack of planning right, you know, making sure I’m ready for what I’m doing more so than, you know, well I’m out there doing it, you know. I know Mario said that, you know, almost all of the people that he had to rescue, the ones who are in really dire situations, the vast majority of them, you know, did some kind of failure to plan before they got on the boat, you know. It wasn’t something that it on the boat, it was, you know, before they got the boat.
Gordon: Failure to plan is planning to fail
Eric: Yeah exactly, right it’s the old business adage, you know.
Gordon: So, we kind of come in into the back door to this little thing, but you know, I have an overarching principle that the merrier would like and it’s called three-piece for whatever activity you’re going to do, whether I’m going to go boat riding, mountaineering, skiing, scuba diving, whatever, three “P’s”, prepared, prevent, perform. So, the preparation is planning and the learning skills, I’m gonna go do the stuff out the woods. Maybe I should learn how to light a fire. Do I know how to ski properly, you know, the first time you put just your skis on was when you put a backpack on your **. Just preparing for the normal skills you need as well as what would I do if something happens; if I fall through the ice? I remember there’s this 1:10:1 principle I should think about and then of course, you know, so now and now I’m on my …I’m doing whatever I’m doing. Yeah, then and so I want to you know, prevention of course we all know prevent and now there’s no there’s no statement better than an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you can stay out of the problem in the first place, you don’t need a self… you don’t need to survive, nobody needs to search everything is fine, we go home and there is no story. But, if something happens either because you screwed up or something else unforeseen, now you are in trouble then you need to perform. With all the preparation the world doesn’t do any good if you do not perform. Now, I can buy you know, a nice fire-starting kit, it doesn’t do me any good if I put that in a storage pouch on my snowmobile and my snowmobile broke through the ice, instead of putting that in my pocket; it’s in my snowmobile and now I’m floating on the surface and like yeah, I remember the 1:10:1 principle, am I breathing under control. Now, I do the kicking pull… I actually got myself up on the ice, I rolled away now I’m mature and now I’m gonna freeze to death because I’m wet and I can’t light a fire, because even though I went and bought the right stuff, it’s sitting at the bottom of the lake so preparation gets to thinking not only, you know, do I have the equipment but is it were it needs to be accessible right.
Eric: You know, it’s funny I am… I just started a new business and I think, you know, the same applies to that I could probably take the three P’s and a plan to just about anything
Gordon: We really like it.
Eric: You know, I like it. So, I know you’ve got a goat shortly but I wanted to talk about… because we haven’t talked at all about people sinking in cars which is always been a paranoia of mine actually, to be in a car and, you know, it hits the water and you know what happens then.
Gordon: We should just finished the cold water drowning. So, we talked about, you know, the minutes of pulse and breathing check…drowning is a whole different story
Eric: Okay, sorry. Go ahead, please.
Gordon: Anybody who has drowned, you know, by the time you get there, blow them out, they’ve been there for a number of minutes. The people of cold water drowning is, you can survive being under the water, whereas you’re in a backyard pool in July, so many drowns. If they’ve been underwater three or four minutes they are dead. But, you know, we know that, if it’s ice water or cold water, they might be underwater 20-30 minutes and might survive.
Eric: I knew it’s longer… I didn’t realize it was that much longer.
Gordon: The record for the most longest documented 66 minutes, but obviously the longer, the lower the odds. But, let’s use 20 minutes as an example. No guarantee, but it’s possible, you should try to revise them here. We’re not talking about taking a minute to figure if the heart’s not working, their heart’s not working. So, you just treat them… their problem is not so much cold; cold actually protect… the reason that they might survive long is cold protects the brain from anoxia or hypoxia; no oxygen which is what happens when you drown. So, you know, like hypothermia you’d like to warm the heart up, cold water drowning, you need oxygen to the brain that is the treatment. So, it’s straight up you know, CPR with or without rescue breathing, you know. Some… there’s some CPR protocol you just do the pumping and that’s it, you’ve got the heart pumping blood somewhat and the pumping actually brings air in and out of your mouth. So, whether you do straight-up only compressions or compressions with breathing, that’s all you need to focus on, period. There is no… this is like you know the heart-attack victim on the street, start CPR immediately, get them to a hospital.
Eric: So, why does cold protect the brain?
Gordon: Well, there’re complicated factors, nasty things happen that the brain releases toxic substances when it becomes hypoxic and if the brain is cold, when it’s hypoxic… hypoxic means low oxygen or no oxygen… if the brain is cold when that happens, it diminishes the release of these substances. And the other thing is, as any tissue as it cools, its need for oxygen decreases. So, colder brain uses oxygen slower so they can go a longer period without oxygen before it becomes irreparably damaged.
Eric: My first thought is I wondered if there is any kind of evolutionary, you know, need for this, you know, for us to survive, you know, for our brains to be protected and cold; I’d have to probably think about it more but…is it a coincidence or it’s something we’ve developed over time, you know.
Gordon: One of the **advantage is one tissue, any tissue, requires less oxygen the colder it gets.
Eric: So, cars underwater.
Gordon: Well, I was asked to testify at an inquest in 2006 related to a gentleman who was… worked for the… subcontractor for the government driving a snow plow on our winter road system, and they went to roads course opposed to frozen tundra, but also across lakes or water bodies and his 5-ton dump truck with a big cloud on the front, broke through the ice and sunk and he drowned. So, they asked me to come and the inquest was ** so they asked me, we have a cold water guy, we should get him to come and testify. And so, you know, I testified about what my opinion was and what all the issues were related to him and as it turned out, a lot of what I said, you know, was incorrect, because of what I’m about to say. One of the things that I pointed out was there is no there’s not a lot of research on this, and you know, in the end the judge said, you know, amongst his recommendations was that the government of Manitoba should funds the research in this area and he knew who they should get to do it. So, I got some money from the government to start studying vehicle submersions in a more research related way proactively. And so, we first looked at vehicle sinking characteristics and also what should you do and vehicle sinking characteristics, important thing is, vehicles like this, it’ll start to tilt forward as water rushes in, it’ll sink, the engine end will go down. Most cars, except the VW bug, has the engine in front settle so it will tilt forward and as water comes up the vehicle will go down and you know, it’ll end up on the bottom, full of water and of course you will drown. So, what we really figured out there was up until then, people haven’t really thought about, you know, there’s one phase; the vehicles on the surface and then the vehicle disappears. So, it’s floating and it’s underwater. The main thing we came up with which is life-saving in my mind is that there are three phases that first part till it disappears is actually two very important and distinct phases. There’s what normally lasts for a minute, so we get the magic minute again, and it is until … it’ll tilt forward and fill with water, but until the water gets up against the windows, you can roll the windows down. So, you’re in a boat with a big leak and, you know, again there’s no need to panic. You have some time to think, and you just have to remember again, I’ve got another set of advice for you, and that is you just have to don’t panic and do not touch your cell phone. And remember these words, seatbelts, windows, out, children first. So, you know, many people have heard… you’ve probably heard, you’re from Florida, you heard this probably for sure. It was taught in schools and some schools in Florida, that if you’re in a vehicle in water, let the vehicle sink to the bottom, let it fill with water and then you can open the door. So, the problem is, you’ve got water on the outside and the level of water on the inside of the car is lower. So, there’s more pressure against the doors so that is true. And, the logic that is …so, when the vehicle is full of water. I can open the doors because the pressure is equal that is also true. But, the problem is the odds of you still being alive when the vehicle is completely full of water is very, very low. I don’t know many people who have ridden a car to the bottom, let the vehicle fill with water and open the door because by then, they have drowned. But, you are in a vehicle that is going to be on the surface for a minute or more and until the water gets up. So, we call the floating phase is until the water gets up to and above the side windows that’s floating phase or you can just open the window because there is no pressure against… like your window, if I go to the parking lot, you’ve got a perfectly functional window. But, if I push against it and they say go ahead open your window, your window won’t open right. Well, that’s what happens when water… and that’s called the sinking phase, when the water gets up against the window. And now, even though you still have lots of air in the vehicle, and having done this several times, it’s a very, very scary time because you’ve got all… you’ve got this air but you can see that the air is getting less and less and you can’t open that window because the water is against it. And so, that knowledge that you can open the window but for a limited period of time which is normally about a minute is very important. So, seat belt off, window open, out, done and that can be done… you know, we’ve had, you know, we’ve had let’s say exercise, we’re all going to get out the driver side window we’ve got people in the back seat get in the water boom now let’s do it and I get out, I push the seat forward gets out you know 9, 10 seconds. So, you know, like you just think about like, ok boom, again start the clock and take off my seat belt, open go hey, it’s open, I got to get out. That’s well under 10 seconds, and remember you’ve got a minute to pull this off. So, it’s just a matter of not panicking and thinking about it. The reasonably say don’t touch your cell phone, you know, I was sitting right here, actually I was sitting right here when I figured this out. I was thinking about all these cases that I’ve been listening to, and people had made phone calls and then they drowned; and thinking about that, one minute before the water gets up against the windows and I can’t get out and so, you know, the bottom line here is, if you touch your cell phone, you are probably going to die. Because, what are you doing a cell phone, you call 9-1-1, now you’re 30 seconds in, and now, what’s it used to be, what does the 9-1-1 operator worry about? You know, where your emergency is; the nature and location. So now, how they started talking about …because they’re gonna send help… cuz they’re sending help… so now, you’re gonna talk about, well you’re in the canal; what canal where is that? And you don’t know cuz you’re panicked, you know, you got the Carla Gutierrez case back in early 90’s right in Florida, it really started this whole thing. Cuz I’ve got a tape recording of her phone call, two 9-1-1, and then you listen as she gets more and more panic, and then she drowns on the phone. It’s a brutal… brutal audio. This all really is going on this. So, it doesn’t matter what rescue system there is, you’re not going to phone somebody that is going to dispatch somebody who’s gonna get to you and get in the water and get to your car within a minute. Maybe, they’re right across the street, that’s not gonna happen. So, that’s why I say don’t touch your cell phone. You are… here is an example of where you pack your own chute; you’re gonna get out either on a self-rescue or you’re gonna drown. So, seatbelt off, window open… it okay, and if there are children or somebody, you know, grandpa who needs help or whatever. You know, get them out of their restraints, try to push them out of the window first ahead of you. It was if the water does start coming in, you’ll be you’ll be sure to push them out, that’s not gonna be a problem. But, if you go out first and the water starts coming in the window, the odds of you going back in is much less.
Eric: Once the water starts coming in, it’s hard to get out the window at that point, right. It is impossible?
Gordon: Well, you should be long gone by then. There’s no reason why you can’t… we have had two adults in the front, an adult in the back with a doll, not a child, but in a buckle in a car seat in the back, and he had problems undoing the car seat. And we said, we’re all gonna get out the front driver’s side window, three adults, undo the kid, get the kid out, you know, all in I think it was fifty seconds. And, there were some problems undoing… so there’s no reason why you should still be the vehicle when the water starts coming though in the window, the open window. But, it doesn’t really matter. With a car, we’ve actually done this test, we’ve done and let the water, you know, get up so it’s really coming in, and tried to get out and after **you can do it. The reality is it doesn’t matter because, so you can’t push against the wall, fine, take a breath. In the car… in this case, because the windows open, the car will fill quickly and you know, the flow will diminish soon and then you just get out. But, a truck, we did get a same five-ton truck with a snow plow on the front, and we did do a test with that and once we let it go… and this is why this victim has really no chance, because it is so heavy it’s sunk in three seconds. So, I mean it was like, we were all just standing there because we doesn’t know the car stuff, and the only wanted float and sank and it actually sunk so fast that the pressure on the outside built up so, so much that it actually imploded the windshield. And yeah, so… but, now many of us are driving five tons snow plows on ice-covered lakes. But, everybody in the Florida and many other places are driving long distances, right beside bodies of water. I mean, Florida is the **a for vehicle submerging drownings, because so many of your roads are beside canals and you have that situation because, as I understand it, because you know, many highways are built on swampland so how do you build a road on swampland, you take dirt out and build it up and the area, and you just keep doing so you dug a canal in order to make the road, and you’ve got that canal by the road and you’ve got, you know, so there you go. So, what are the three main words; seatbelts, windows, out- children first.
Eric: And, how many times have you driven a car off into water and gotten out yourself?
Gordon: So, I’ve been in them in water… in a car in water and sunk in like 20 or 30 times. Driven, four; it’s much more exciting to drive but it’s more difficult because you got to find a place that will allow you to actually drive a car because the car that’s driving has some gas in it, you can do some things to prevent any gas from getting out, but a lot of areas just won’t buy that. So, they won’t let you use it. But, yeah, it’s very interesting, it’s fun you know it’s fun driving a car in the water if everything else is taken care of, you know what you’re gonna do, you’ve got rescue people around, but the bottom line is in all cases, there’s lots of time to open the window. I should mention back to the Carla Gutierrez story and many since then, I think it was 1991 and there was a call at the time from her fiancé, I believe, and other people saying you know, we need to change these… it might have been 2001, I may be going back …probably 2001. The year doesn’t matter, there’s a call that says that we should do something with a 911 protocol, because they were just asking somebody where they were over and over again. Where are they isn’t going to help, because it …the person is drowning they need to do something. Great advise, so you know, I thought yeah, we need to give them advice like seatbelts, windows down, and I fortuitously was asked to help rewrite the 911 protocols for one company that provides emergency dispatch protocols for about 60% of the English-speaking world and hopefully Florida subscribes to that system, or well, you have many different jurisdictions, but the folks who have get there, if there’s protocols from …we have written… if you phone them, if you didn’t listen to my first advice, don’t panic, do not touch your cell phone, not everyone will have heard that or remember, we are absolutely locked in and using cell phones for everything. In fact, some people probably take some pictures of the water, post it first and then… do not do that. But, if you if you phone dispatchers where they have our protocol, they will they’ll say, you know, what’s the nature of your emergency. And, as soon as you say my vehicles is in water, they will immediately… they might get a general idea send somebody, and then they will move into, can you take your seatbelt off? All right, can you get to the backseat? And we talked about if you kind of give advice, you say, get to the back seat because that back window will be out of the water longer than the front window. And when I say back, I’m still talking about the side window. Can you open the window? You can’t open it, okay can you break it? And then, they’ll give exploit, you know, instructions as how to break it. And then they’ll say is there anybody else in the car? Alright, get them out of their seatbelt, get them out the window, push them on first. Okay, now you get out of the vehicle. Instead of having them sit trying to remember and tell exactly where their vehicle is and what colors our vehicle. Well, it’s red but it’s the only one floating out in the water. So, you know, so and we actually know that this advice has… we just had a case in January, I think in Florida in Collier County I believe, where, you know, when we were at the AEDPA conference in Fort Lauderdale, the next day we drove across Alligator Alley, Burton however miles with canals on both sides, and stopped to visit a site where somebody had just drowned a few days ago in a car in a canal, and we gave a one-day seminar on vehicle submersions. And, we know that there, they do have our protocol, because in January woman was driving with a child in the car seat in the back and accidentally ended up in a lake, called 9-1-1, they told her what to do, she got out, phone went dead, the dispatcher thought that she had actually lost the victim, and then someone a couple of stations down said oh no, I got her on the phone again, because she swam to shore than full 9-1-1 again said no, I’m out I’m good. So, we know that it’s saving lives.
Eric: It’s good, and you know, it makes sense if you think about it ahead of time right. It’s hard to figure out in the moment what you should do.
Gordon: Well, especially a car in water, yes. Cuz now, for sure, your eyes are wide open like this, and you know, you have probably heard, unless you listen to this podcast, you know, you heard… or Facebook cast, you’ve heard some version of this, let the vehicle fill with water, you know. We gotta… we’ve even had a case where …a witness case where someone drove in and their window was open and their vehicle was floating, and the woman hid her window up, because she, you know… we can’t ask her because she drowned. But, I can imagine it with some mixing of messages, one is she wasn’t gonna get out of the vehicle because she had to get the vehicle filled with water; then another natural instinct said well, I don’t you know, water is gonna gush in here so I’m gonna shut the window, you know, and then by the time, you know, by the time if she ever didn’t think about trying to open the window again, it was too late and she drowned. Seatbelts, windows, out.
Eric: Children first.
Gordon: You got your three P’s, you got your seatbelts, windows, out you got your 1:10:1 principal, you’re good to go.
Eric: You got your kick and pull
Gordon: Kick and pull, that’s only two points but that’s okay.
Eric: Well thank you Ben, really. I really appreciate this, I think this info is lifesaving. I didn’t want to ask you who gave you the name professor Popsicle…
Gordon: Outside magazine
Eric: Outside magazine.
Gordon: Nobody, it was interesting, they wrote an article about in 2003 and so, I was introduced to that, like everyone else in the population, I was in the… I knew when it was coming out and I was… I happen to be traveling somewhere. So, I was at the Minneapolis Airport, I was in between flights and there was a bookstore and I could see there’s outside magazines. So, I went open it up and it said me professor Popsicle. It was the first I’d heard that they were going to use… that they were gonna try that… use that moniker. And, it stuck and that’s good, because, well most people I know, knows me as professor problems, or they can’t remember my name and I don’t really care if they remember my name, all I care is that they remember the life-saving messages that we try to get out there. Our lab motto is **, which is Latin for ‘saving lives’, that’s what we’re trying to do.
Eric: I mean, I guess that’s better than Mr. Freeze or
Gordon: Well, I get that too; I got all kinds of versions of Professor Popsicle, or Dr. Ice, Dr. Freeze whenever. Any of those work, they’re fun and they certainly portray what I do and people remember what Professor Popsicle said, but they can’t remember ** which is fine, I don’t care as long as they remember.
Eric: I would go with the boxer… Triple G, it’d be my choice.
Gordon: Oh, my middle name is grant so I am triple G
Eric: Yeah, that’s what I was thinking of with Triple G, like the very but it doesn’t mean much.
Gordon: Right, exactly. Yeah, well hey, well thank you so much, I really appreciate you taking the time, and this is great info.
Gordon: Well, thanks for having me, and you know, my advice that I give to everyone who leaves one of our experiments which is keep cool, but don’t freeze.
Eric: Perfect, and is there any where people can find you, you know.
Gordon: I think you’d like, you can find our stuff on coldwaterbootcamp.com or beyondcoldwaterbootcamp.com. We also have another educational program which is the land-based version of Cold Water Boot Camp, which is… oh man, I’ve lost it…which is… Oh, maybe it’s cold outside. Its just the first letter. So, bicosurvive.ca. And, I’m at the University of Manitoba, you can find me there as well.
Eric: Perfect, well thank you Gordon. Have yourself a great day. Thanks for listening and, you know, stay cool, but don’t freeze.