The Fountain, Colo., Fire Department handles a lot of animal rescue calls. But in 11 years with the department, Fire Captain Rick Daniels says the call he got on Jan. 26 was "one of the more challenging animal rescue calls that I've had."
No one's exactly sure how or why, Daniels tells NPR, but two brown cows had wandered out over a frozen pond, and fallen through the half-foot of ice.
Someone driving by the pond called 911 and described seeing just the heads of two cows peeking out over the sheet of ice. The cows were up to their necks in frigid water.
By the time Daniels and several other firefighters from his department arrived, the cows were extemely tired and, somewhat surprisingly, quiet.
"They were making an attempt to get out," says Daniels, "but every time that they would get their front hooves up onto the ice shelf, the ice shelf would collapse. ... So we knew that we had to come up with a plan to get them out as quickly as we could."
Under other circumstances, Daniels says, the firefighters might have tried to strap the cows to a ladder truck and hoist them out of the freezing water.
But they were out in the middle of a pasture, Daniels says, "so there was no way to get a ladder truck out there without, you know, getting the ladder truck stuck."
Instead, Daniels says, they needed an ice-breaker.
He and one other firefighter put on bright orange ice-rescue suits to protect themselves from the water. Armed with an ax and a saw, which they normally use to cut the roofs of houses on fire, they cut a 30-foot long trench to the two cows, and slowly guided them back to shore.
Daniels says a rancher came by to claim the wayward cows, and Fire Chief Darin Anstine told the Associated Press that the cows are now doing fine.
But in 11 years of firefighting, Daniels says, this might be the strangest animal-rescue call he's ever gotten.
"This would probably be it," Daniels says. "Two cows stuck in the ice."