At approximately 6:00 PM on Tuesday, January 17, 2023, the newly formed Putnam County Technical Rescue Team and the Patterson Fire Department were requested to assist the Croton Falls Fire Department and the Westchester County Technical Rescue Team with a horse rescue on Hardscrabble Road in North Salem.
The Putnam County Technical Rescue Team was requested to deploy two special purpose UTV 4x4 vehicles to the scene, as well as a light tower trailer and specially trained rescue personnel. The Patterson Fire Department responded with their Heavy Rescue, 22-6-1, and personnel specifically experienced in the area of horse rescues. Together, the group of volunteers managed to rescue an 11-year-old, 1,400 pound horse named Niko.
“As always, tremendous thank you to all our local first responders and volunteers. Your efforts will not go unnoticed and we’re proud of the work you’ve done,” said Putnam County Executive Kevin Byrne. “The ingenuity displayed by our Putnam County Technical Rescue Squad is something to be admired and I cannot be more proud of them for their success in their first call along side their counterparts in Westchester.”
The horse was spooked while being ridden around vineyard, and took off crashing through the woods, losing his rider along the way. After riding alone for almost a mile, Niko was mired in mud and fell over, unable to stand up by itself. The initial location of the horse was unknown, and Westchester County Police Aviation was called for assistance, as well as Yorktown Fire Department.
“This was a really wet swamp with boot sucking mud,” said Putnam Technical Rescue Team Commander Joey Nickischer. “Rescuers were falling over as their feet got stuck and had to rely on each other to pull themselves free.”
The rescue plan involved “building” a roadway of about 20 plywood sheets between dry ground and the horse, and then digging Niko out as much as possible.
“We had an excavator on site ready to assist,” said Herb Doerr of the Westchester County Technical Rescue Team, “but it couldn’t get as close as we’d like because the mud was too deep.”
A local veterinarian administered anesthesia to the horse in order to calm the creature down. Ropes and straps were then wrapped under Niko to help free him from his predicament. It took over 25 individuals to pull Niko out of the mud, sliding the horse onto a makeshift sled. The sled could then glide over the improvised roadway onto more solid ground, where Niko was finally able to safely stand up.
Personnel on the ground described this as a very difficult rescue. It took the combined skills, equipment and experience of all the Fire-Rescue personnel to have a positive outcome, plus a dozen agencies to support the 4-plus-hour long operation. In the end, Niko was able to walk onto a trailer and was transported to a veterinary clinic for evaluation.
Photo Credit: Joey Nickischer