DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Firefighters stand ready to protect and save — even if the object of their rescue efforts involves four-legged creatures.
As a crowd watched from the shore Saturday morning, Dover-Foxcroft firefighters went to the aid of two deer that had fallen through the ice on the Piscataquis River behind the Piscataquis County Chamber building.
Wearing cold water survival suits, the four firefighters got into a boat and used axes and picks to open a water path so the deer could swim to shore.
“I think it was a great job,” Warden Jeremy Kemp of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife said Monday of the rescue. Firefighters “started just breaking ice out with axes and picks and whatnot” to get the boat upstream, Kemp said.
Once they started the boat’s motor, the vessel’s movement continued to break the ice, which was about an inch thick, he said.
What appeared to be a doe and this year’s lamb were near exhaustion after floundering in the water for more than 30 minutes, according to Kemp.
Kemp and Warden Glen Annis had just arrived Saturday morning in Dover-Foxcroft between hunting investigations when they recei ed a call from the Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Department that two deer had fallen through the ice.
“They were pretty well exhausted and beat up,” Kemp said of the deer. Without a boat nearby, all the wardens could do was watch the deer through their binoculars.
The deer “had both gotten on top of the ice and they’d start running and they’d break through again,” Kemp recalled. “They would go a little ways and, in trying to get up, they’d break the ice and keep breaking through.”
A group of Dover-Foxcroft firefighters — Assistant Chief Gerald Rollins, Ryan Taylor, Lt. Ryan London and Capt. Mark Young — heard the radio traffic. They converged on the scene along with Dover-Foxcroft Fire Chief Joseph Guyotte, as did spectators who noticed the commotion.
Guyotte’s offer to get a boat from his department was approved by the wardens. “It would have taken us quite awhile to get a boat there,” Kemp said.
In a matter of minutes, the firefighters arrived back at the scene dressed in cold-weather suits with their boat.
With Young piloting the boat, the firefighters broke a channel out of the ice, and that allowed a deer close to the shoreline to jump up and out, according to Guyotte. The firefighters then circled around behind the other deer, which was farther out in the river. That movement caused it to swim away from them and toward the shore.
Both deer survived the escapade.
“It’s a lot of stress on the deer,” Kemp said. “They certainly survived much longer than I think a person could have under those conditions,”
He said the hair on deer is hollow so they float a little better than many animals do.
When the deer got on the shore, they both took off, which was a good sign, according to Kemp.
“My guess is if they’re able to get into a protected place for a couple of days and get some of their strength back and get something to eat, they’ll probably be OK,” he said.
Dover-Foxcroft firefighters have all been trained in animal rescues, but this was the first opportunity any of them had had to put their training to the test.
Would they do it again?
“In a minute,” Guyotte said.