The Campbell County Fire Department rescued two horses stuck neck-deep in a frozen pond near Gillette on Tuesday in a frantic, yet controlled, effort that ultimately had a heartwarming ending.
Battalion Chief Kate Eischeid said Campbell County Sheriff’s Office deputies contacted the fire department around 2:40 p.m. when they were informed about the trapped horses. A rancher leasing the property who made the call for assistance wasn’t sure how long the horses had been in the frigid water.
It took the fire department about 10 minutes to reach the property about nine miles outside Gillette, Eischeid said, adding that judging by the futile desperation exhibited by the horses it was clear to her that they would have escaped if they could.
“It looks like they walked out onto the ice and fell through the center,” she said. “They were shivering and cold and attempting to make their way out of the ice, but they weren't able to walk out or climb out.”
The Campbell County Fire Department has responded to animal ice rescues before, so they devised a game plan and gathered all the tools they needed. After they got their safety lines secured, cutting through the ice with chainsaws began.
It was clear the trapped horses were ready to escape their predicament, Eischeid said, and the five firefighters on the scene decided the best way to save them was to let them by making a path to follow with the chainsaws they brought with them.
Both the fire engine and rescue vehicle they brought had chainsaws onboard. So, they started cutting into the ice between the trapped horses and the nearest shoreline.
“It took us 20 minutes just to cut that ice,” Eischeid said, noting they were racing the clock. “It was a lot to get done that fast, and it was pretty thick ice. (The horses) must have found the thin, soft spot. But it took a while for them to cut those heavy chunks of ice and move them out of the way.”
Eischeid said the horses were calm and observant throughout. They seemed to understand what was going on and shivered with cold, not fear, as firefighters worked as fast as they could to cut through the ice.
With the removal of each chunk, the horses inched closer to the shore. Finally, they walked out of the frigid water and onto dry land once their way was clear.
“It took them a while to climb out of the water,” Eischeid said. “They were cold and probably numb, but they successfully got out.”
One horse had a minor limp due to numbness from the cold water or a slight injury from falling through the ice. Otherwise, both horses were free and fine by 3:14 p.m., she said.
The Right Timing
Eischeid and her team have done multiple animal ice rescues, but unlike Tuesday’s many have tragic endings. For once, it was nice to see their timely efforts ensure the survival of the horses, she said.
“They’re not always successful,” she said. “By the time we get there, some (animals) are deceased and some aren’t. This was definitely exciting just to know that (we) made a difference.”
Timing was essential in this rescue. Eischeid commended the Campbell County Sheriff’s deputies for promptly contacting the fire department and the rancher who called in when he first saw the horses in the pond.
“The deputies thought quick and had us come in shortly after them,” she said. “And the person who found them made a difference by getting a hold of (them) quickly. It was all good timing, honestly.”
Andrew Rossi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.