The Fly Creek Fire Department is celebrating the heroism of two of its own for their life-saving actions in rescuing a man who was sucked into the rushing stormwaters in a culvert last week.
First Assistant Fire Chief Jess Lanza and Second Assistant Chief Henry Hight were the first to arrive at the scene on Christian Hill Road in the hamlet of Fly Creek, where Otsego town highway crews were working to clear a culvert blocked by a beaver dam Tuesday, July 13.
Members of the town crew called 911 after one of the workers became trapped by the rushing water as part of the culvert collapsed, according to Lanza. With the help of his coworkers, the man was able to mostly keep his head above water until rescue crews arrived. The worker was not identified.
Lanza, who said he was only a mile away from the scene when he got the 911 notification, said he used some of the rescue items in his truck, including a rescue sling made from tubular webbing, which he tossed to the man in the water to wrap around himself in an effort to keep him afloat.
Shortly after, Hight arrived on scene in the department’s mini rescue truck, which he said can be used for water rescues in extreme temperatures. A floatation device was also deployed to the man in the water, which crews used to help “yank him out of the suction,” Lanza said.
The man was “visibly tired and wet,” but exhibited no significant injuries aside from cuts and bruises to his legs, Lanza said. He was transported by Fly Creek ambulance to Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown, where he was released to recover at home, according to Otsego Town Highway Superintendent Bill Hribar Sr.
The dam was about 10 feet wide, Hight said, estimating the water to be four or five feet deep. Access to the culvert was not visible from the road.
“It was scary, but this is something we train for,” Hight said.
The water rescue is believed to be the department’s first in more than 20 years.
Both men credited the leadership of the department and fire district for acquiring water rescue equipment and arranging for training for the department members.
“Even though we’re not on a big lake, it just goes to show that water rescue is important,” Lanza said. “You never know when you might need it.”
“Training always does help for when the real thing happens,” Fly Creek Fire Chief Chris Voulo said. “These two guys, they jumped right in the water with him. Without them, we might not have been able to pull him out.”
“It was a valiant effort between us, the town and EMS,” Hight said. “It could have been a lot worse for this guy if his crew wasn’t there with him.”
Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at email@example.com or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.