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BRIGHTON — The first thing an 11-year-old girl wanted to know after a firefighter reached her in the frigid waters of a pond in the Platte River Ranch neighborhood …
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BRIGHTON — The first thing an 11-year-old girl wanted to know after a firefighter reached her in the frigid waters of a pond in the Platte River Ranch neighborhood last week was if she would need to go to the hospital.
“I said, ‘Let’s get you out of here, OK, honey?’” firefighter John Johnson said. “I wanted to get her out of there before we started worrying about that.”
The girl and a friend, also 11, were apparently playing with a ball on the ice Jan. 17 when it gave way. One of the girls was able to pull herself free, but her friend remained in the water, clinging to an ice shelf.
Johnson, 30, and fellow Greater Brighton Fire Protection District firefighters from station No. 51, were first on the scene. He said they’ve had several false alarms of individuals in the water this winter but it’s important to treat every call with the assumption it’s genuine. Brighton firefighters routinely train for ice rescues on Barr Lake.
“When we pulled up on scene and actually saw her in there, we wanted to hurry up and get her out,” Johnson said.
Johnson, in his yellow flotation suit, was the first to get in the water. He said the suits are well insulated but he could tell “it was pretty cold.”
He faced a couple of challenges to reach the girl. First, the water was deeper than he anticipated.
“I stepped out about 4 feet and it just dropped,” Johnson said. “There was no bottom. I’m 6-feet tall, and I couldn’t touch. I have no idea how deep it was.”
He also needed to break through about 15 feet of ice before he could get to her.
“When I finally broke the last piece, she kind of dove at me,” Johnson said.
He reached the girl just in time. The lethargy of being in cold water began to set in for the girl, and it’s likely she couldn’t have held on much longer.
“She was ready to get out of there,” Johnson said. “She kept telling me how cold it was.”
Johnson’s safety line became disconnected in the midst of the rescue. GBFPD engineer Ken Mayne waded into the water to bring the girl to safety.
Johnson didn’t get a chance to talk with the girl. She was already in an ambulance when he emerged from the water (both girls are OK). He did go back into the water to retrieve the ball and the girl’s purse.
Johnson, a first-year firefighter, said, “everything went really well.”
“It felt pretty good to know you saved her,” he said. “Who knows? A couple more minutes and she could have been under (water) and it would have been a different story.”
Johnson pointed out a couple individuals ventured out on the ice before firefighters arrived in an effort to save the child. He said that was an admirable effort but advised anyone in a similar situation to save rescue attempts for trained professionals. The fire department also advises everyone to stay off frozen ponds during the winter because changing temperatures can make the ice deceptively unstable.
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