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  • Wichita Fire Department captain Michael Wells gets a kiss from Taz after he was rescued by firefighters on Thursday, April 12, 2012, in Wichita, Kansas. After 2 and half hours of searching and cutting through concrete, firefighters found the dog safe and sound. (Travis Heying/Wichita Eagle/MCT)
  • Wichita firefighter were cleaning up what they thought was an unsuccessful dog rescue when one of the firefighters spotted the animal's nose on Thursday, April 12, 2012, in Wichita, Kansas. After 2 and half hours of searching and cutting through concrete, firefighters found the dog safe and sound. (Travis Heying/Wichita Eagle/MCT)
Friday, April 13, 2012

Dramatic rescue saves pet

WICHITA, Kan. – The rescue of Taz the dog from floodwaters on Thursday encompassed despair, scuba gear, tears of grief, concrete saws, tears of joy, sledge hammers, about 20 of Wichita’s most highly trained heavy rescue firefighters, eight fire trucks, goodness knows how many tax dollars, and two news conferences.

But a somber news conference was interrupted when firefighter Larry Inlow saw, through a tiny hole in concrete, the wet nostrils of a dog trying desperately to stay alive. Firefighters carried out one of the most dramatic rescues in recent memory.

It started about 10:30 a.m. when John Huy, 79, a retired aviation engineer, took a walk in the rain with Taz, a 6-year-old mutt that Huy describes as “part pit, part lab, and part I-don’t-know-what.”

When the rain increased, Huy and Taz took cover under the Harry Street Bridge that passes over a creek and culvert between Rock Road and Woodlawn. And then the lightning flashed, and the thunder rolled, “and Taz got fidgety,” Huy said. Huy made the mistake of letting him off his leash then, a mistake he later swore to 20 firefighters “I’ll never make again.”

Taz jumped into the creek, which flows south under that bridge. When another bolt flashed in the sky, Taz, who Huy says gets scared even at the sound of a nearby lawnmower, scrambled under a ledge along the sidewalk under the overpass. And then the water rose. And the ledge closed off, and Taz backed up, suddenly trapped in the small air pocket left to him.

Huy, who said later that “I’ve got a really good bond of friendship with that dog,” leaped into the rushing water. It wasn’t deep, perhaps no more than 3 feet, but it was running muddy and hard, and rising.

Tod Parent, 54, who just moved to Kansas recently from Kentucky, leaped into the water with Huy; he’d just met him a minute before, but joined in with the rescue, getting soaked up to his waist.

For 45 minutes, Huy and Parent tried to coax and pull the terrified Taz from the air pocket, as the water continued to rise.

Someone, seeing two men struggling frantically in the creek, called 911 and told dispatchers that a car was submerged with people possibly trapped.

The Wichita Fire Department sent a crew from Station Four, including, as Capt. Michael Wells said, some of the toughest and mostly highly trained firefighters in town, who “could go into a building collapse and quickly move concrete around to find people.”

They brought a boat they didn’t use. They brought concrete and rotary saws that they did use.

When they found there was no car, and no person to rescue, they didn’t hesitate. Two firefighters got into the water and stayed there for close to an hour, probing, sticking their hands underwater where Huy thought Taz had disappeared. They said later they thought there might be air pockets there, and they tried to figure out where to make the cuts.

Huy stood off to the side, fighting off tears. He wondered aloud whether he should call his wife.

“I should have come home a long time ago, so she might be wondering,” he said. “But I really don’t want to tell her what might be happening here.

“I hated the Fire Department had to be called for this, but they’re doing a yeoman’s job of trying to save the dog.”

But after a long time, and under the gaze of news cameras, Wells called a news conference, to tell the somber news: Taz had disappeared, possibly to never be found alive. Around him, firefighters were packing up gear.

But then a bystander saw what looked like a tiny puff of smoke, wafting out of a tiny hole in the concrete near where Taz disappeared on the ledge under the sidewalk. That bystander told firefighter Larry Inlow.

Inlow knew it wasn’t smoke; it was probably dust, blown out by a dog nose pressed up against the tiny hole, trying to suck in oxygen. Inlow quickly went to that tiny hole in the embankment concrete and stuck his ear right up to it.

He heard breathing.

Dog breath.

He called for help. The news conference quickly broke apart.

The crew members with the scuba gear and wet suits, already tired, jumped back in the water, moving about two or three feet to the north of where they’d been probing before.

John Huy jumped down beside the hole, and called out to his dog. “Taz,” he said. “I’m here!” Firefighters fired up the concrete saws.

Huy cringed, and warned them about how Taz gets really scared around the roar of a lawnmower. They cut and cut, and when they had made enough of a hole, one of the scuba guys stuck a hand in to try to help Taz out. And

Taz bit down.

Fire rescue is sometimes a thankless task. No matter. Within minutes, they pulled Taz free. The 100-pound brown dog was dripping wet, but free.

Huy gave an emotional thank-you to the firefighters.

Wells, the captain, came over, borrowed a reporter’s notebook, and asked for Taz’s information and Huy’s phone number: With one of his guys bit by a dog, there was going to have to be an investigation to see whether Taz’s shots were up-to-date.

And then Wells called another news conference. Wells acknowledged that eight fire trucks, plus police directing traffic, plus the use of all that equipment, merely to rescue a dog, was indeed a significant effort.

“But we understand that pets are very, very important to people’s lives,” he said. “We’re glad to be here.”

“It’s been a good day.”