WESTBORO (CBS) — Westboro firefighters saved a man’s life Thursday afternoon after he fell through the ice at Cedar Swamp on Brigham Street. The man had his cell phone and was able to call 911. The three-team rescue took about two hours.

Firefighters said they responded around 1:30 p.m. and found 78-year-old William Johnston in muck about 400 feet from where they parked their truck. They turned on their siren so the man would know they were there, and he started yelling to help them locate him.

“We had some difficulty locating him he was out in the middle of a swamp,” said Deputy Chief Jason Ferschke. “Looking across into the swamp it’s very dense brush, water, trees down.”

Johnston spoke to WBZ from the hospital. He said he was in the swamp looking for his falcon.

“I thought, ‘God if I don’t get help in here, this is going to be my final resting place,’” Johnston said.

His trained bird had gotten away from him and he tracked her to the ice-covered pond.

William Johnston (Photo Courtesy Falcon Chase Services)

“I walk out and as I’m getting close to her I’m also getting close to the deep water and I fell through,” he said.

Luckily, he had a way to call for help, but his cell phone battery was down to one percent.

“I had just enough service to get on the phone with the dispatcher and I probably was on the phone no more than five minutes when the battery went dead,” Johnston said.

The rescue was complicated. Firefighters had to wear cold-water survival suits and use chainsaws to make their way through the muck.

“The soil below you is a foot and a half of muck so you can’t pull your feet out as easy and then you have roots in there from all the trees and everything in the area,” said firefighter Barry Sullivan.

Westboro firefighters rescue a man who fell through the ice at Cedar Swamp. (Westboro Fire Department)

“One second you’re at your ankles the next you’re up over your head,” said Lt. Chris Dubois.

Johnston was taken to a hospital and is being treated for possible hypothermia, firefighters said, but he is doing well.

“The nature of our job is that we have to be able to overcome and adapt to situations and curve-balls that are thrown at us all the time,” Deputy Chief Ferschke said.


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