Professor Popsicle plunges into river for safety lesson

Gordon Giesbrecht, popularly known as Professor Popsicle, sacrificed himself on Monday by plunging into Winnipeg's Red River in the name of ice safety awareness.
Gordon Giesbrecht, popularly known as Professor Popsicle, took a plunge into Winnipeg's Red River to help raise awareness of ice safety awareness. 1:50

Winnipeg's Professor Popsicle sacrificed himself on Monday, plunging into the Red River in the name of ice safety awareness.

The demonstration of a cold-weather water rescue was put on by the Canadian Red Cross, Winnipeg Police Service and the Winnipeg Fire Department, with Gordon Giesbrecht volunteering to be the victim falling through the ice.

Giesbrecht runs the Laboratory for Exercise and Environmental Medicine at the University of Manitoba.

While he is known as Professor Popsicle for his experiments enduring cold-weather environments, Giesbrecht said Monday's chilly demonstration shows how difficult it can be to stay afloat in cold water.

"It's very, very cold and we're just trying to get people the message: It's Thin Ice Month. The ice is thinner than you think. Stay off the ice," he said.

Monday's demonstration on the river near St. Vital Park aimed to show people how to protect themselves if they crash through ice, and how emergency crews respond to those danger calls.

Winnipeg's water rescue team receives, on average, between 50 and 75 calls every winter about people on the ice, says Raj Sharma of the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service.

Don't panic, says professor

While the amount of snow and cool temperatures make it difficult to believe, spring is on the way and as the weather warms, the ice covering Winnipeg's rivers, creeks and lakes will begin to melt.

People are urged to stay off the ice, but there always seems to be someone who tests their luck.

Giesbrecht said those who do fall through the ice should stay calm while they're in the water.

"Panic is everything. Panic never makes decision-making a better process," he said.

"So we tell people, first of all, stay off the thin ice. But if you do ever end up in the ice water, don't panic and get your breathing under control."

Giesbrecht said the ice can be very unpredictable on rivers and retention ponds.