Firefighters pull two dogs from icy lake
Austin firefighters early Friday morning rescued two dogs that had ventured out onto the ice at East Side Lake.
Tom Schulte and Chris Grunewald put on orange "gumby" suits — insulated, buoyant suits designed for water rescue — and belly-crawled about 40 feet onto the lake to the open water area.
The dogs went into the water at about 7:30 a.m. Initial reports were that the dogs' owner also had gone onto the thin sheet of ice to rescue them, but Schulte said no one was on the ice when rescuers arrived.
A full-time firefighter who's been on the department for four years, Schulte said the first priority is always safety — including their own.
Before venturing out on the ice, he and Grunewald were tethered by a tag line.
"When you're going into something like that, you have the support on land, which makes the execution of the operation possible," he said.
The entire department is trained annually for ice and water rescues, Schulte said, but it was his first actual rescue.
"Chris and I never would have been able to do what we did without the help of Tim Hansen, Brian Lovik and Terry Peterson," all full-time firefighters who assisted on shore, he said.
"Seconds count," Schulte emphasized. "People ask us when the ice will be safe, and really, ice is never safe."
The dogs, both Basset Hounds, were taken to Austin Veterinary Clinic by Gold Cross Ambulance and a Mower County Sheriff's deputy, where one succumbed to hypothermia.
The other was expected to go home Friday afternoon, said clinic staff, who praised the rescuers' efforts.
That dog's temperature had dipped so low it didn't even register on the thermometer when he arrived at the hospital, an assistant said.
"Part of our job is to help people," Schulte said, "but dogs are going to suffer from hypothermia, just like humans."
It's a lesson that often takes a tragedy to learn, he agreed.
"If the ice doesn't hold a (50-pound) dog, it probably won't hold a human," he said. "The water is freezing, but it's not frozen."