The image often associated with firefighters is that of masked men and women hauling heavy oxygen tanks and putting out fires with huge hoses. There’s no denying that they boldly brave smoke and flame to rescue the trapped and helpless.
These local heroes do much more than that, though. Just ask the Station 18 crew of the Oaklyn Fire Department in New Jersey. After a wild morning, they received a call about a dog trapped in a frozen lake.
With no time to waste, the volunteer firefighters suited up and faced the blistering cold to save the troubled pooch. But would they make it on time?
The word firefighter is a bit misleading. Sure, these brave men and women boldly run into flames in order to rescue lives and put out fires, but they do so much more. Crews like Station 18 know all about that.
Oaklyn lies along the Pennsylvania border in southern New Jersey. The people there don’t see many emergencies, but when they do, Chief Scott Cairns’ unit of volunteers respond. On December 30, 2017, the team stepped up to the plate in a major way.
The crew had been just about as busy as they’d ever been in the week following Christmas. Just earlier in the day, they’d responded to an emergency involving a chicken coop that had caught fire.
Because of a faulty heating lamp, the coop—housed inside a detached garage—was “fully involved” by the time the crew arrived, according to Chief Cairns. Luckily, their timing couldn’t have been better…
“There were no injuries to personnel, and no injuries to animals,” Chief Cairns said. The chickens were moved safely to a neighboring farm, so with their work done, the crew packed up and headed back to the station. That’s when they received another call…
The crew suddenly received an urgent call about a dog trapped in a nearby ice-covered lake. She needed the help of Station 18—and fast. The fire trucks raced toward the scene. There was no time to waste!
“Shortly after responding,” Chief Cairns confirmed, “the assignment was upgraded to an ice rescue as it was reported to be a dog that had fallen through the ice on our local lake called Newton Creek.”
There was a complication: the trapped dog was a Shar-Pei. You might know them as the dogs that have more in common, appearance-wise, with an uncooked batch of muffin dough than other canines. But more importantly: they don’t deal well with the cold!
Though the origin of the Shar-Pei is unknown, records show that these dogs were used as working dogs in South China, where the climate is tropical and the winters are mild. By constrast, the winters in the northeastern United States are anything but mild.
With their dedication to hard work, it benefited the Shar-Pei breed to have short coats so they didn’t overheat. Of course, it’s not hard to see why it was such bad news when a dog that was bred for warm weather was trapped in a frozen lake.
The firefighters needed to move fast to save this dog, who was trapped in a circle of water in the ice. “I observed the dog was currently treading water to stay afloat and seemed to be getting weaker,” Chief Cairns said.
The fire chief further explained the rescue in an interview with People. “Battalion Chief Greg Grudzinski and Captain Fred Bartling were tethered off to a safety line and deployed our ice rescue sled,” he said. They had to crawl—or else they’d endanger themselves.
Neighbors saw the dog—whom firefighters later learned was named Lilly—running on the frozen ice before she fell in. That’s why this rescue was so daunting. If the firefighters stood up, they wouldn’t have been able to distribute their weight properly—and they could’ve found themselves in a similar fate!
As cautious as they had been, the ice cracked beneath one of the rescuers. He slipped into the icy water, but thankfully it was only temporary. This was one dangerous job, but they still wouldn’t retreat until they’d reached Lilly.
Eventually, Battalion Chief Grudzinski and Captain Bartling reached the dog. To secure the pooch, the firefighters had to get into the water. Had they reached Lilly in time? Or had she succumbed to the cold water?
The shaking dog was secured, and now was the tough part. Chief Cairns said, “They pulled themselves out to the dog and were able to pull her up onto the sled. We then pulled the safety line and towed them to shore.” Lilly must have been exhausted—but she was alive!
Finally, they moved away from the thin, broken ice, and one of the firefighters even picked up Lilly and carried her the rest of the way. She was likely happy to have a break! After a successful rescue, Chief Cairns said it was all in a day’s work.
“Emergency services are the jacks-of-all-trades,” Chief Cairns said. “When people don’t know who to call, they call the fire department and the police department to solve their issues. Obviously, we’re glad to come out as needed.” Still, they had one last thing to do…
With Lilly wrapped up in blankets and warming up, the firefighters located her owner, a man named Walt Hartling, who gleefully posted about her return on Facebook. Now? “From what we have heard,” Chief Cairns said, “she seems to be doing very well.” Phew!
Lilly’s rescue made it to local news outlets all over the area and for good reason: for a person to spend such a long time in freezing water would have killed them. It just goes to show how tough Lilly was! You can see it in the full news story below…
Chief Cairns said it best: rescue workers are the “jack-of-all-trades,” and for that reason, we’re thankful for them no matter the situation!
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