For 15 years, they’ve been at it as a team, dealing with natural disasters, putting out fires and rescuing victims on land and water. But an especially heroic rescue has garnered two fearless Town of Lumberland firefighters some well-deserved recognition.
On June 11, Ann Stiemle and Don “Bosco” Hunt Jr. were named Sullivan County Firefighters of the Year by the Sullivan County Volunteer Firefighters’ Association during its annual dinner in Neversink.
The recognition was the result of a high-risk rescue that took place on the rock face at the Hawk’s Nest in the Town of Deerpark on July 31, 2010. Making the rescue of two stranded rafters even more harrowing was the fact that it took place at midnight.
“At 11 o’clock at night, we got a call that a raft was missing and voices had been heard at the Hawk’s Nest,” said Stiemle. The duo headed to the area in an airboat to assess the situation. “As we scoured the side, I saw the couple flashing us with their cell phone,” said Stiemle. “Bosco piloted the boat over to where they were and we looked up and said, ‘Oh my God! Now what?’
“It was like a whirlwind, like being in a bad snowstorm or a tunnel,” said Stiemle. “Bosco was picking along in the dark with the boat. Air boats are very loud, so every time I saw a rock, I’d just start throwing my arms into the air. He knew from my body language which way to go. We crew a lot together, so we read each other really well. I think that was part of our success.”
“You couldn’t see 10 feet in front of the boat, with the shadows from the lights and the water moving,” said Hunt. “Everything was glistening everywhere. It was insane. But we know where the major rocks are and we train enough together to know the river well.”
The rafters had tried to climb up the rock face to get help and slid over 50 feet. “He had one broken leg and the other was badly gashed; the girl, who was hypothermic, came tumbling down onto the guy and they were stuck on an outcrop of rocks clutching a tree,” recounted Stiemle.
Drawing on Hunt’s mountaineering skills and the pair’s ingenuity, they began climbing the rock face to reach the stranded couple. “Bosco skittered up and threw me over the top of him. It was a lot of brush and trees, but he used to climb trees for a living. We tied my lifejacket off, put it around the people and lowered them to the Port Jervis boat that had come.”
Reflecting on the event, Stiemle was able to find humor and more heroism. “The whole time we were thinking, ‘Oh God, we’ve got poison ivy!’ We did not, but they did—bad. Our fire department had found us over the Hawk’s Nest and had gotten every light truck possible to illuminate the river so it was like daylight when we left.”
“It’s one of the craziest things we’ve done,” added Bosco. “We just stepped out of our lives.”
Although both Stiemle and Hunt agree that this event has been the pinnacle of their rescue efforts to date, they have many other stories to tell, like the time they were sent to retrieve an unspecified pet from a house fire. It turned out to be a six-foot python. “We started feeling around in the smoky room,” said Stiemle. “When I grabbed it, I thought it was our hose. Unfortunately, it was cooked.”
Earlier this year, Stiemle and Hunt were also recognized for the Hawk’s Nest rescue by the Upper Delaware Council with that organization’s Lifesaving Award.