ICY RESCUE; Firemen pull Bowerston resident from icy waters of Leesville Lake

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Thanks to the efforts of a “team” of firefighters, a Bowerston man is home safe after falling through the ice on Leesville Lake Saturday.

Carroll County Sheriff Dale R. Williams said his department received a call of a man through the ice at 12:28 p.m. near the Edgewood Rd. shore area.

Leesville Water Rescue WEB
The above photo shows the rescue of Brinley D. Harris from the icy waters of Leesville Lake. Brinley’s head is visible near the top of the photo as Carrollton Village Firefighter Nick Jackson approaches him. Fellow firefighter Zeb Casper, Jackson’s backup is visible near the boat, which is manned by a Dellroy firefighter. Firefighters on shore are holding safety ropes that were used to pull the trio back to shore.

Brinley D. Harris, 38, of 90100 Easton Rd., Bowerston, was walking on the ice on the lake with a sled-type boat filled with fishing equipment. He broke through the ice about 40 yards from the shoreline, according to Atwood Rangers. Brinley’s son and another adult were with him at the time.

Carrollton Fire Chief Tom Mesler arrived shortly after his department was called and saw the man in the water. Dellroy firemen arrived shortly after and firefighters Sam Arnold and Wayne Lippincott suited up in mustang survival ice rescue suits and attempted to reach Harris by boat.

Carrollton Village Firefighter Nick Jackson entered the lake to the left of them, wading through open water to reach the ice. Using a floating rescue sled when he reached the icy surface, he continued on until the sled broke through the ice. He then used his arms to break the ice.

“I had to break the ice using my arms; breaking down, swimming forward and breaking down again,” said Jackson, who is a certified open water diver.

Dellroy firefighters were continuing their efforts to reach Harris also but were having issues breaking through the ice.

“I kept eye contact with him on the way out,” Jackson explained. “I was about eight-to-10 feet from him when he began to flail from exhaustion. I saw him go under and come back up.”

Jackson said he knew he had to get to him right then or it would be too late. His training kicked in he said, he slowed his breathing and focused on getting to the man.

“I dug deep and broke the ice,” Jackson stated. “He went under just as I reached him. I pulled him up and wrapped him in a bear hug.”

Carrollton Firefighter Zeb Casper, who entered the water behind Jackson, used his body to break through the ice in the area Jackson traveled over with the sled.

By the time Jackson reached Harris, Casper had reached the area where Jackson fell through and began pulling both men back toward the shore.

All firemen who entered into the water, whether in the boat or swimming, were tied off to ropes manned by firefighters on shore for safety reasons. Two members of Sherrodsville Fire Department were suited up as the rapid intervention team (RIT team), to assist Jackson and Casper, if needed.

With the assistance of firemen on shore manning the ropes, Jackson and Harris reached Casper. Jackson and Casper kept a bear-hug hold on Harris as they were pulled to shore.

Once on shore, firefighters and medics from EMT Ambulance removed Harris’ wet clothing and wrapped him in blankets. Jackson and Casper, both exhausted, collapsed in the mud on shore.

Harris was placed in the village fire department’s utility rescue vehicle and transported to a waiting ambulance and was transported to Union Hospital in Dover.

“Nick single-handedly saved that man’s life,” Casper said when the two men had a chance to sit down together during their weekly fire department training Feb. 22.

“I appreciate that,” Jackson said humbly, “but it was a team effort, from dispatchers to truck drivers to everyone in the support structure.”

Jackson has trained extensively for ice rescue scenarios. No matter what training they have practiced, it seems the scenario is always the opposite so you rely on training and your common sense, Jackson noted.

Casper does not have training for ice rescue. “On the way out we made a plan,” he said. “We knew Nick would go in the water because he has the training. I decided I would go in as his back-up.” Firefighters go into water rescues as a two-man team.

Not knowing what to expect, Casper said he just got into the water and began breaking the ice with a pick at first then just using his arms. “I followed Nick’s lead.”

“The cold water splashing on my face took my breath away,” he continued. “It was exhausting.”

“It becomes a mental aspect,” Jackson added. “We knew we could not quit.”

According to Jackson, firemen from Dellroy and other departments were in the process of planning an ice rescue training session. “I think this incident proves we don’t need thick ice to practice, we need to practice scenarios such as this.”

(Other ice rescue trainings involved fireman sliding on the frozen water to pull a victim from a hole in the ice. They men would be tied off and use picks to pull themselves along the ice to their destination.)

“I am in my 18th year of being a firefighter,” Jackson said. “This was my first save.”

Casper, who has been a fireman for 12 years, said this was the closest to a life-ending incident he has witnessed during his tenure.

“We all do this because we love to help people,” Jackson and Casper stated. “This shows how training together makes us all one big family. All the departments worked together as a team,” Jackson continued.

“We were not three departments,” Casper added. “We were one unit.”

A second ambulance arrived on scene to monitor Jackson and Casper and check on Arnold and Lippincott. Jackson and Casper said it took about two hours for them to gain their momentum back.

Harris was released Saturday evening from the hospital.