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‘This is what we signed up to do’: Training kicks in for firefighters during river rescue

Columbia County (WKOW) — Firefighters say their training and quick instincts helped them rescue a woman who had driven into the Baraboo River in Columbia County.

The Portage fire crew jumped into the icy water to help pull the van from the river Monday morning in Caledonia. The driver had gone off the road on Cascade Mountain Road, near the ski hill.

“We didn’t know what we were going to come to,” said Brian Bonovetz, a long-time firefighter with Portage Fire Department. “When we got there [the van] was totally submerged under water.”

Bonovetz and two others suited up to get in the water and help pull out the van and the woman trapped inside. They had extra staff to help from shore.

“We put [the first firefighter] in the water next to the van. He was able to break out a window in the side and we put a chain around the post in the rear and towing hooked up to it and pulled the vehicle out of the water and up on to the shore,” said Chief Clayton Simonson.

Simonson says this isn’t a common type of call, but the department trains regularly for these moments.

“We always want the best for everything so we try to get there do our job as efficiently and as fast as we can to try to save someone,” he told 27 News.

It was more than 10 degrees below zero Monday morning as the firefighters worked. They say they were running on adrenaline and the bitter cold didn’t really impact them until it was over.

Bonovetz says their suits are made to protect them.

“It insulates you, I mean, the whole time we were in the water I didn’t feel the cold,” he said. “Without these, you definitely wouldn’t be able to go in and do what we do. [It’s] a lifesaver for us, the ones that do go in the water.”

The firefighters are prepared to take action to get the job done no matter the conditions.

“This is what we signed up to do. This is what we want to do,” Bonovetz told 27 News.

Columbia County sheriff’s officials are looking into what caused the driver to go off the road just around the bend from Cascade Mountain. She was taken to a Portage hospital, but we don’t know how she’s doing yet.

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