Glen Fire Chief J.D. Downing’s 20 years of frigid water rescue training finally got put to the test Sunday morning.
Since the department bought neoprene cold water survival suits back in 1993, he and his crew have drilled regularly, perfecting their skills, waiting for the day an unwitting local took a tumble into a wintry Mohawk River.
Sunday morning, Downing got the call. It was time to don the neoprene, but not to rescue a hypothermic swimmer — not a human swimmer, anyway. A shaggy black dog named Hannah was stranded on a chunk of ice floating near the northern bank of the Mohawk, east of the Fonda-Fultonville bridge.
Downing and Assistant Chief Sean Leminszki parked by the sewer treatment plant, then wriggled into their full-body survival suits and made their way to the bank before Hannah decided to make a swim for it. Annoyingly, she decided to go the long way, across most of the river to the southern bank.
The two firemen jumped back in their truck, still in the cumbersome suits, and sped across the bridge. A few others from the Glen Volunteer Fire Department were waiting with safety ropes. Downing and Leminszki clipped in and set off across the ice toward open water.
“We’ve drilled in zero-degree weather on windy nights,” he said. “We didn’t handle this any differently.”
He laid out the accepted rescue protocol, a two-in, two-out arrangement. Two rescuers in suits go into the water, connected by safety ropes to two firefighters on shore. In the water, they pull and push the victim out up onto the ice while the onshore guys haul away on the ropes.
“We did it just like that,” he said. “Except it was a dog, not a person.”
Just like their training, the rescue went off without a hitch. Leminszki ended up taking a belly flop into the water as the ice gave way, but it was only waist deep and he had the safety rope, so it all worked out.
“I carried Hannah about 30 yards up the shore,” he said. “There was a crowd of first responders and passers-by watching. They made a human chain to get her up the bank.”
Hannah was wrapped in a blanket and rushed to Noah’s Ark Animal Hospital under police escort.
Veterinarian Scott Stipe said she responded very well to a warm water bath and heated intravenous solution, returning to normal core temperature in a short time.
“She’s doing well,” he said. “Her owners have been contacted. We’re all very grateful for the good work of the first responders.”
Downing said a slew of other departments assisted with the rescue, including the Fonda and Fultonville volunteer fire departments, off-duty firefighters from Canajoharie, Montgomery County Sheriff’s deputies, emergency management officers and GAVAC.