Doe the right thing: Wauconda firefighters brave icy conditions to rescue deer from Fox River

Firefighters wearing special exposure suits are safely back on shore after rescuing a deer that fell through ice Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023, on the Fox River in Port Barrington. The deer fell through about 60 feet from shore, getting stuck in the muck about 3 or 4 feet deep.

You might associate water rescues only with people, but now and then wild animals need a professional hand, too.

That was the situation just after noon Jan. 28, when a passerby reported a distressed animal struggling on the ice in a bend of the Fox River in Port Barrington.

Wauconda Fire District firefighters responded and found a full-size doe stuck in the river just north of Rawson Bridge near the Broken Oar Marina Bar & Grill on Rawson Bridge Road.

The doe likely was trying to cross and fell through the ice about 60 feet from shore in a shallow, muddy area, Wauconda Fire District Deputy Chief Devin Mueller said.

“It was total muck on the bottom. The deer was probably so tired it couldn’t pull itself out,” he said. “They get so tired out because they work so hard to get out of the water. They get exhausted.”

Firefighters tend to a deer that fell through the ice Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023, in the Fox River north of the Rawson Bridge in Port Barrington. A firefighter managed to pull the deer – later named Jan by her rescuers – from the icy water and guide her to shore.

While not common, the district receives a couple of calls a year to rescue stranded animals, Mueller said. Besides a portion of the river, the district’s jurisdiction includes several lakes.

All of its first responders, including supervisors, are certified in ice rescue and train regularly. Exact procedures can vary, but the response is the same, whether it’s a person or animal that has fallen through ice.

The response crew includes one or two firefighters dressed in exposure suits sealed head to toe, with a third member tending a line. Other crew members stand by along the shore.

Their first action is to reach out to the person or animal with a branch or ladder. If that’s impractical, a line is thrown.

If neither works, crews get into the water to provide hands-on assistance.

That was the case Jan. 28, when a crew member was able to wrap his arms around the exhausted doe and maneuver her ashore, Mueller said.

The rescue took about 18 minutes. Once on shore, the deer was warmed with a blanket and hot packs to restore movement in her legs.

Before leaving the scene, the doe’s rescuers decided to give her a name.

“They called her Jan for January,” Mueller said.

Further assistance apparently wasn’t needed. A McHenry County Conservation District officer who was on scene at the time of the rescue went by later and saw no sign of the deer.

Mueller said anyone tempted to rescue a pet or wild animal in a similar situation should seek trained help instead.

“Call us. We have all the equipment,” he said.

Jan wasn’t the only animal rescued in recent days. The Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation reported rescuing a coyote Jan. 26 that fell into a pit at a Waukegan water treatment plant and had been there three days. After covering it with a blanket, the animal was put on a stretcher and hauled up to ground level using ropes. The coyote was carried on the stretcher to a nearby tree line and released, the organization reported.

Mick Zawislak - Daily Herald Media Group

Mick Zawislak has covered Lake County for the Daily Herald since 2002