The Fountain, Colo., Fire Department handles a lot of animal rescue calls. But in 11 years with the department, Fire Captain Rick Daniels says the call he got on Jan. 26 was "one of the more challenging animal rescue calls that I've had."
No one's exactly sure how or why, Daniels tells NPR, but two brown cows had wandered out over a frozen pond, and fallen through the half-foot of ice.
Someone driving by the pond called 911 and described seeing just the heads of two cows peeking out over the sheet of ice. The cows were up to their necks in frigid water.
By the time Daniels and several other firefighters from his department arrived, the cows were extemely tired and, somewhat surprisingly, quiet.
"They were making an attempt to get out," says Daniels, "but every time that they would get their front hooves up onto the ice shelf, the ice shelf would collapse. ... So we knew that we had to come up with a plan to get them out as quickly as we could."
Under other circumstances, Daniels says, the firefighters might have tried to strap the cows to a ladder truck and hoist them out of the freezing water.
But they were out in the middle of a pasture, Daniels says, "so there was no way to get a ladder truck out there without, you know, getting the ladder truck stuck."
Instead, Daniels says, they needed an ice-breaker.
He and one other firefighter put on bright orange ice-rescue suits to protect themselves from the water. Armed with an ax and a saw, which they normally use to cut the roofs of houses on fire, they cut a 30-foot long trench to the two cows, and slowly guided them back to shore.
Daniels says a rancher came by to claim the wayward cows, and Fire Chief Darin Anstine told the Associated Press that the cows are now doing fine.
But in 11 years of firefighting, Daniels says, this might be the strangest animal-rescue call he's ever gotten.
"This would probably be it," Daniels says. "Two cows stuck in the ice."
ARUN RATH, HOST:
Captain Rick Daniels has been with the fire department in the city of Fountain, Colo., for 11 years. He and his department have done a lot of animal rescues over the years, but none quite like the one last Tuesday.
RICK DANIELS: I would probably rate it as one of the more challenging animal rescue calls that I've had.
RATH: A driver called 9-1-1 after passing an ice-covered pond and seeing something about 30 feet out - peeking just above the ice, the heads of two brown cows.
DANIELS: Out where they were, they were up to their - up to their necks. All you could see is just their heads sticking above.
RATH: No one's sure how long the cows were out there or how they fell through the half-foot of ice in the first place. But by the time Daniels got there, they were too tired to make a sound.
DANIELS: They were making an attempt to get out. But every time that they would get their front hooves up onto the ice shelf, the ice shelf would collapse. They looked like they were exhausted. So we knew that we had to come up with a plan and get them out as quickly as we could.
RATH: Remember, Captain Daniels has experience in the arena of animal rescue. Back when he rescued a stranded horse, he had to get straps around its body and hoist it up with a ladder truck.
DANIELS: But where the cows were - they were out in the middle of a pasture, so there is no way to get a ladder truck out there without, you know, getting the ladder truck stuck. So what we did is we came up with a plan to take a saw that we use to cut the roof if a house is on fire. We decided that we would take that saw and an ax, break the ice so that we could get the cattle moved closer to shore.
RATH: Captain Daniels and another fire fighter, wearing bright orange ice rescue suits, sawed their way through 30 feet of ice. And slowly but surely, with the help of a couple lassos, they eased the cows back along the trench to shore. A rancher came by to pick up the two wayward cows. According to the fire department, they've been doing just fine. As for Captain Rick Daniels, whom we asked what's been the strangest animal rescue he's ever had...
DANIELS: This would probably be it (laughter) - two cows stuck in the ice. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.