Firefighters Undertake Unique Rescue
Depts. Free Horse, But Elderly Animal Not Strong Enough To Survive
Members of the Brookfield, Randolph Center, Barnard, and Bethel fire departments responded to an unusual call last Monday, rescuing a horse that had gotten stuck in the mud of a stream on a remote Brookfield property.
The Brookfield Volunteer Fire Department, with mutual aid from Randolph Center’s department, were the first to respond last week to a property on Chelsea Road in Brookfield, where an elderly horse was mired near a beaver pond.
The horse, an Arabian, named Bombay, had apparently jumped the fence from his pasture the night before and found his way across the road.
According to Randolph Center Fire Chief Ken Preston, who was asked to take command of the scene due to his experience working with large animals, the horse was about three-quarters submerged in the frigid water and its hind legs were stuck deep in the mud.
“Hypothermia was definitely an issue,” he noted.
Hearing the call on the scanner, Tom Harty, a former state trooper and technical rescue instructor, arrived to lend a hand and share additional rescue gear. Firefighters hauled gear to the brook and began pulling the horse from the water, using straps and a tree for leverage.
“Randolph Center and Brookfield were able to extricate the horse from the water,” Preston said. “The horse actually stood, took several steps, and was so weak it just couldn’t go anymore.”
A Little Help
Brookfield and Randolph Center firefighters set about figuring out a solution to the horse’s situation and received some unexpected, but welcome help.
Besides Harty, whose assistance proved very useful, Bethel Fire Chief Dave Aldrighetti radioed in with an offer to scramble firefighters from Bethel and Barnard’s large animal rescue team.
“They have the toys,” Preston quipped, explaining that Bethel and Barnard’s departments had trained with Colchester Large Animal Rescue to become certified for these types of operations.
The team arrived quickly with some specialized equipment and, in short order, large animal veterinarian Dr. Will Barry turned up to lend a hand.
In all, Chief Preston estimated, about 25 people were on hand to help get the horse out of the water and safely back to the barn.
The Bethel and Barnard crew produced a large, plastic skid, into which firefighters managed to load Bombay.
Like the cover of the old 20 Mule Team Borax boxes, Preston said, about 10 firefighters took up straps and pulled the skid along by hand until it was free of the marshy area and they could attach it to a six-wheeled all-terrain vehicle.
“Even then, going up the last hill, around the corner of the pond,” Preston said, “the men had to pull as well because the machine couldn’t pull it.”
By the time the four departments departed at midday, said Preston, Bombay was able to stand in his stall and eat hay.
According to Preston, who has been a member of the Randolph Center department since 1972, this was the first rescue of its kind in the area. The Barnard and Bethel team, he said, has been certified for large animal rescue for about four years, but this was that team’s first live experience.
Bombay’s owners, Jyl and Marc Emerson, confirmed that their horse died the evening following his rescue on Monday, Jan. 29.
At 27 years old, Bombay was elderly and the stress of the incident proved too much for him.
According to Jyl Emerson, who has had Bombay for nearly his whole life, the horse already had begun to show signs of decline. She suspects that he bolted from his pasture due to pain.
“Horses can go into flight mode when they’re in pain,” Emerson explained.
After finding him missing from his pasture, Emerson and her husband found Bombay stuck in the stream on a neighboring property. They brought him blankets to keep him warm and began making calls for help.
“The silver lining is that we do have [large animal rescue capabilities] in place in Vermont,” Emerson said, noting that Bombay’s rescue had served as an important experience for the area departments.
“We’re also really grateful for everyone who came to help,” she said.
Firefighters went “above and beyond” in helping Bombay, she continued, even fetching water for him and clearing space to get him situated in the stall once he was home.
Bombay was born in Florida, Emerson said, and never cared for the Vermont winters.
“I’ve been picturing him galloping back” to the warm weather, she said.