Audrey Fraizer

Audrey Fraizer

Story Vault

By Audrey Fraizer

Metropolitan Area Communications Center (MetCom) 911 EMD Eric Hurst takes a challenge to the ultimate limit, even if it means jumping into water frigid enough to make him gasp and hyperventilate.

Fortunately, the experience won’t keep him and the team from the Centennial, Colo., communication center from doing it again.

Hurst, five fellow dispatchers, and the MetCom 911 director braved cold discomfort to raise funds for Special Olympics through the 2012 Polar Bear Plunge. The event—one of thousands held across the country annually—dares participants to plunge into unbearably cold water during the coldest season of the year.

Common sense isn’t required.

“Dispatchers at the neighboring Parker Police dispatch center dared us since they were going to do it,” said Hurst, who has worked for five years at the agency in the Denver metropolitan area. “We didn’t know what to expect. None of us had been in this type of situation before.”

MetCom team “Shock and Thaw,” along with 15 other teams, gathered at Chatfield Reservoir last year on Saturday, Feb. 11. Temperatures hovered in the low 20s Fahrenheit. Hard snow covered the ground. The ice on the water was thick. You could definitely see your breath.

Each team took turns lining up and walking to the single triangular hole firefighters cut through the ice close to shore. Team members stripped down to shorts and T-shirts—far less than polar bear swim attire—and jumped feet first into the chest-deep water. Most bypassed climbing up a ladder placed at the side of the ice hole preferring to lunge out every bit as fast as they had plunged in.

“We counted to three and jumped,” Hurst said. “Some of our members put their heads underwater. They wanted to submerge completely. Not me.”

In undoubtedly record-breaking time team Shock and Thaw dashed to the Incident Dispatch Team (IDT) rig for heat and hot drinks, and most likely contemplated their fates after the seconds spent in 46-degree water without wetsuits.

“It was definitely a shock to the system,” Hurst said. “It’s a physical reaction, no matter how well you mentally prepare. Your body just wants to get out as soon as it can. It took 20 minutes to feel OK.”

The $4,600 the team raised for Special Olympics, however, made the day well worth the plunge, Hurst said.

“I would do it again,” he said. “I think all of us would.”

At the time of writing, team Shock and Thaw was contemplating doing just that for the upcoming Polar Bear Plunge.