ROUND LAKE — In terms of unusual calls, Round Lake firefighters have almost seen it all; they’ve even rescued a cat from a tree. Last Wednesday, they accomplished something new.
Nine responders from the Round Lake Fire Department were called to a farm near the village preserve around 10:25 a.m. There, they found an older male horse stuck upside-down in a muddy stream. He had collapsed from the exhaustion of trying to free himself.
Joseph Plewinski, public information officer and captain at the Round Lake Fire Department, said that even the experienced firefighters were initially unsure how to approach the situation.
“This was a first for us,” Plewinski said. “It’s an animal, and you want to be gentle with it, but it’s so out of the ordinary.”
The firefighters were joined by two deputies from the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office and four officers from the Malta Ridge Volunteer Fire Company. Deputy Nikki Voegler of the Sheriff’s Office was first on the scene.
When she arrived, the horse had already been stuck for three hours. The farm owner had spent some time trying to pull him out of the water with a tractor, to no avail. Voegler called the firefighters right away, knowing that they were working against the clock to prevent permanent damage.
“For any horse that’s down for an extended period of time, especially an elderly horse, it can be detrimental,” Voegler said. “I was advised that the horse was a little bit older, somewhere between 25 and 30. … Certainly there’s the pressure of time, but you have to do it safely.”
As a horse owner, Voegler is often dispatched to assist with equine emergencies. She and the firefighters worked together to develop a plan of action.
“We have a heavy rescue truck that has the tools we need for more traditional motor vehicle accidents and industrial accidents,” Plewinski said. “The question was, ‘How do we adapt that equipment to the situation right now?’”
To save the horse, the rescuers had to get creative with their resources.
“We created a sling out of fire hose, and then we used a device called a grip hoist, which is a fancier version of a come along,” Plewinski said. “That allowed us to fashion a rigging system to pull the horse out of the water and get him to a point where he could stand up.”
The rescuers were careful not to hurt the animal while hoisting him out of the stream. They worked together to quickly cut down a nearby tree and clear away some sharp rocks. They tried to keep the horse calm and comfortable in the meantime, holding his head above water so he could breathe.
After these preparations were complete, the rescuers finally sat the horse up and helped him out of the mud.
“Our goal was to get the horse on flat ground so that he could rest and recover before actually getting up,” Voegler said. “When we put the equipment away, the horse was finally strong enough to sit down and start eating grass. It was definitely a relief to see that.”
Despite spending several hours in the mud, the horse seemed to be in good shape and good spirits when the rescuers cleared out around 12:17 p.m.
“He was resting. They brought another horse out to help him calm down a little bit, and he was nibbling on grass,” Plewinski said. “He was just hanging out.”
A farrier soon arrived to care for the horse, and the responders’ work was done.
“It was a good outcome, and we were very happy about that,” Plewinski said. “In fact, our chief is taking a lot of comments from the village residents here in Round Lake that they were very happy with how we were able to affect the rescue.”
Plewinski added that police and firefighters often work together to address unique emergencies.
“In these unusual circumstances, when in doubt, give us a call,” he said.