By Andy Rathbun Herald Writer
MONROE — Ice was floating down the Skykomish River during a 2008 training exercise when someone on the Monroe Fire Department brought up the idea of a polar bear plunge.
It sounded like fun to the tough firefighters. They had heard of people jumping into bitter cold lakes in Minnesota.
They figured they could do the same in the Northwest, although weren’t so sure they should do it on city time.
“We decided to just come back on Jan. 1,” said Capt. Jeff Zornes.
The Polar Bearcat Plunge, named in part for the Monroe High School mascot, is slowly turning into an annual event. Men from the fire department — along with friends and family — took the leap again this past New Year’s Day.
Zornes emphasized two things about the plunge.
One, it is not a city event. It’s organized through phone calls among friends.
And two, that water is cold. The temperature this year was about 35 degrees, Zornes estimated.
“You can get hypothermia and all that stuff,” Zornes said. “It’s in and out. Nobody spends a lot of time swimming across the river. That would be stupid.”
Zornes and his fellow firefighters know about the dangers cold water can pose. They handle water rescues. They know it can kill.
They’re learning it can also bring a group of men together.
In its first year, the plunge attracted seven people. This year, 16 took the leap.
“We’re going to have to worry about getting some safety (team) down there if it gets much bigger,” Zornes said.
The men also might add a fundraising element to the event when they stage their plunge in 2011.
The water might be cold, but their hearts are not.
“Maybe bring cans down,” Zornes said of a possible food drive. “Turn it into something more than just going out there and proving you can do it.”
Andy Rathbun: 425-339-3455, email@example.com.