Eleven officers from Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service and one RSPCA inspector have been awarded with RSPCA Certificates of Commendation for their heroic rescue of a horse from a frozen lake on Christmas Day 2010.
Officers spent over two hours chipping away the ice with an axe in order to pull Ghillie the thoroughbred mare out of the frozen water at Patshull Park Hotel Golf and County Club in Pattingham, Shropshire.
Battling treacherous driving conditions to get to the scene, the specialist water rescue team, a water officer, a fire engine and the rescue tender appliance from Newcastle-under-Lyme and Stafford fire stations arrived to find only the horse's head and neck visible above the ice. Ghillie was paddling in the water and was out of her depth. It is believed she walked onto the frozen lake when the ice gave way. Melanie Brown from Sedgleyalerted the emergency services of the incident.
The swift water rescue firefighers put inflated walkways around the horse as they broke the ice. RSPCA inspector Jackie Hickman arrived at the scene as the rescue operation was well underway. As did the owner of the horse, Sue Taylor, an equine vet, after being alerted by a neighbour.
Once recovered from the ice, Ghillie's condition was critical. RSPCA inspector Hickman assisted Ghillie's owner with emergency first aid removing excess water from the horse using straw and rugs, warming her up by providing heat from a gas fire heater. Inspector Hickman stayed with Ghillie, keeping her on her feet while Sue went for further supplies and drugs and spent a further two hours at the scene assisting Sue stabilise Ghillie's condition.
Speaking about the rescue, RSPCA inspector Hickman told FIRE: "The firefighters worked extremely hard in sub zero temperatures to save Ghillie's life. Even though they were very cold and tired, not once did they complain as they had a genuine interest in the horse's welfare. The officers worked tirelessly in the interest of animal welfare when most people were at home tucking into Christmas dinner. It was really rewarding for me to work with such a compassionate and dedicated crew."
Station Manager, Mick Daniels said: "We were called to assist Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service as we have a specialist water team and equipment so by the time we arrived, the horse had been in the water for a couple of hours.
"The rescue of a horse is always difficult as even the most placid horse can be very dangerous when panicked or stressed. In this particular case the rescue was very complex in the fact the horse had fallen through ice and was in near freezing water being some distance from the safety of dry land. In addition to that, Christmas Day last year was in the middle of one of the coldest periods this country has experienced and there was a significant covering of snow particularly in the area of the rescue.
"It was very difficult work to break through the ice using conventional tools and the thickness of the ice was unpredictable, being up to a foot thick in places but thinner in others. Several other firefighters were on the ice securing ropes and harnesses to the horse to keep her head above the water."
Owner of Ghiilie, Sue Taylor said: "Ghillie has always been a rather nosey and adventurous horse but this time it was very nearly the end of her! She escaped relatively unscathed except for a wound on her leg and a burn on her neck. I have noticed that her character has changed since the rescue; she is slightly quieter now, more circumspect and less bossy. I cannot thank the fire and rescue officers enough as well as Jackie for saving Ghillie's life as that is what is amounted to. I am also extremely grateful to Melanie Brown and her partner for their part in Ghillie's rescue."
RSPCA regional manager Steve Carter who presented the awards to the firefighters said: "This incident is an example of the dedication and commitment of our emergency services to animal welfare. This was a challenging task which occurred during one of the most severe periods of bad weather we have recently experienced and the team work and leadership demonstrated by the firefighters throughout this incident was outstanding."