Posted on Wednesday, Jul. 19, 2017 at 4:20 pm
Last summer three boys set out for a bike ride. When they didn't return, their afternoon adventure turned into a 16-hour multi-agency search operation at the Neda Iron Ore Mine in Iron Ridge, Wisconsin.
The Madison Fire Department's Heavy Urban Rescue Team was among those who helped find them. Here's their story…
Just Another Sunday
It was a warm July afternoon when 16-year-olds Tate and Zach and 15-year-old Sam hopped on their bikes and rode off for what was supposed to be just another summer adventure. Along the way, they stopped at the nearby Neda Iron Ore Mine, a site known to attract curious kids who like to explore, even though the mine has been closed to the public for over seven decades†.
With cell phone flashlights in hand, the boys traversed the dark recesses and rugged terrain of the abandoned mine. Then, their cell phones died. With no light source to guide their way out, the boys took shelter inside the mine.
Their parents grew more distraught when calls to their cell phones went straight to voicemail. That evening, the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office began a search of the area and ultimately found the boys’ bikes outside the Neda Mine at 2:40 a.m. Monday†.
As deputies continued exploring all possibilities, including the chance of a child abduction†, the Iron Ridge, Woodland, and Neosha Fire Departments responded to the mine to begin searching the intricate network of pathways and tunnels.
Madison HURT Responds
Local authorities searched for hours without any luck and eventually determined more help was needed. At 3:45 a.m., the Madison Fire Department’s Heavy Urban Rescue Team (HURT) was asked to come up to Iron Ridge.
In the pre-dawn hours, the ten-person special rescue team based at Fire Station 8 assembled and headed to the Neda Mine, the farthest the team had ever traveled for a mutual-aid response.
The HURT arrived at 5:00 a.m. and paired up with members of local fire departments. Together they formed Interior and Exterior search teams consisting of two Madison HURT members and two local firefighters each.
The Interior search team was assigned to the north end, a grid-like pattern of shafts. After an unsuccessful search there, rescuers moved to the southern portion, a much more challenging network of mine shafts likened to “a bowl of spaghetti.”
Rescuers also confronted areas of water inside the mine, some measuring six to eight feet deep. Using a canoe stored there by scientists, rescuers paddled across the area to reach solid ground.
Having searched the mine for about two and a half hours, the HURT was ready for rehab. Calls were placed to the Milwaukee Fire Department’s Heavy Urban Rescue Team, and Jennifer Redell, a conservation biologist and cave expert with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), was also on her way.
There Had To Be Another Way
The unsuccessful searches of the north and south ends of the mine had rescuers stumped. They’d come into the mine through all the obvious entryways. Could there be another entrance?
Just as they paused the consider the possibilities, the father of one of the boys approached the Exterior search team. There was an additional entrance, located just beneath a cliff, that he thought the team should check.
“We were kind of looking over (the cliff), and the dad looked at me and said, ‘Well are you going to go down there or am I going to go down there?’” Fredrickson remembers.
There was no question: The team was prepared to go. As Fredrickson and his team advanced into the tunnel, the scene was worrisome.
“It was very rugged, and it looked like it had recently collapsed,” he described. “The ceiling looked very unstable.”
What’s more, it appeared there wasn’t much to explore beyond a large pile of rubble situated not too far from the entrance. But the HURT is nothing if not tenacious and thorough! They wanted to be certain the tunnel was clear before moving on.
Fredrickson climbed over the rubble and shined his flashlight into the cave. There he discovered a tunnel extending “as far as you could see.”
Firefighter/Paramedic Adam Phillipson joined Fredrickson inside. As they advanced, the tunnel narrowed into a two-foot-wide chute. Jagged, broken rocks beneath their feet added to the challenges.
“It forced me to move slowly,” said Phillipson.
That’s when he made a game-changing discovery.
“I looked down to where I was going to step to make sure the ground was stable, and there was a perfect imprint of a tennis shoe in the mud in front of me,” he said.
Proceeding a bit further, he also noted the imprint of fabric resembling denim in the mud on the rocks. While this was a breakthrough in the search for the missing boys, it also called to mind more questions than answers.
“A lot of thoughts are going through your head,” said Fredrickson. “Are they under this pile of rubble? Are they deeper in the cave? Did this collapse and they couldn't get out so they went further in?”
The team advanced as far as they felt they could safely go. Then it was decided they would come back out and strategize once again before re-entering.
The Milwaukee HURT arrived in Iron Ridge at about 10:30 a.m., and DNR expert Redell was right there with them. They teamed up with Phillipson, who escorted them back into the tunnel where the footprints were discovered.
After directing Milwaukee HURT to the point where he’d left off, Phillipson waited outside with his crew for updates from the Milwaukee search team.
“It felt like five minutes later they came out and there were the three little boys with them!” said Fredrickson with a smile. “It was a very happy and rewarding time.”
The boys were unaware of the amount of attention they’d acquired while inside the cave. They’d also just spent several hours in 40-degree temperatures wearing warm-weather attire. Paramedics made sure they weren’t hypothermic or suffering from any other ailments, and rescuers did their best to ease the boys’ quick transition back to their normal life.
“We told them that their parents were down there waiting for them, that they’re going to get a lot of hugs and kisses, and then… probably be in big trouble!” Lt. Ryan Stebnitz said with a chuckle.
With the rescue over and the boys happily reunited with their families, everybody finally had a chance to take stock of all that had happened. Reflecting on the operation, it occurred to rescuers that they were on the verge of a close call.
During their search for the missing boys, Milwaukee HURT said they and Redell had advanced as far as they possibly could inside the tunnel where the shoe prints were found. Reaching the end of the road with no other sign of the boys inside, they turned around to come back out and declare the tunnel cleared.
As the search team made their way back toward the cave entrance, the boys happened to wake up and see the beam of the rescuers’ flashlight bouncing around in the cave. The boys called out for help. Rescuers didn’t hear them at first, but as they advanced closer and closer, they realized the boys had been right there the entire time.
It was extremely lucky timing.
“If we had left that cave, we would have marked it. That would have been our secondary search, and we never would have gone back,” said Fredrickson. “If they would have kept sleeping, we might not have ever seen them again.”
A Success Built On Teamwork
A vast amount of collaboration went into this operation, and it involved a combination of departments that had never worked or even trained together before.
What began as a local law enforcement response grew to include local fire departments and ultimately blossomed into a large-scale search and rescue operation involving regional response teams, MABAS, the Wisconsin DNR, Wisconsin Emergency Management, and others.
Jason Boeck, chief of the Iron Ridge Fire Department and a sergeant with the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office, was the incident commander overseeing the entire operation.
“The guy was awesome. He did a great job,” said Madison Fire Lt. Stebnitz.
Firefighter Josh Balli added, “It was all a giant team effort, and it worked pretty flawlessly.”
About the Heavy Urban Rescue Team
The Madison HURT was established in 2007 as a continuation of an investment in technical rescue capabilities that began in 1985. Although it never trained on mine rescue, its training in confined space rescue and trench collapse were instrumental in the Neda Mine operation. This team consists of 57 total members and is based out of Madison Fire Station No. 8 on Lien Road.
Pictured below are some of the rescuers involved in the Neda Mine operation: (L-R) Firefighter Arthur Dinkins, Firefighter Michael O'Connell, Firefighter Cory Hesseling, Acting Lieutenant Eric Fredrickson (search leader), Lt. Ryan Stebnitz, Firefighter Josh Balli, and Firefighter/Paramedic Kevin McDonald.
Not pictured: Asst. Chief Clay Christenson (search command), Firefighter/Paramedic Adam Phillipson, AE Wade Raddatz, and Firefighter Richard Scott.
† Schmidt, G., Boeck, J., Christenson, C., Votsis, D., McNulty, B. (2017). MABAS-WISCONSIN in ACTION, 8(2), 1-11. http://www.mabaswisconsin.org/pdf-documents/NewsletterVol8Issue2.pdf
Subscribe to Email List
- Meet Firefighter Dontrell McIntyre
- Meet Firefighter Michael Sepulveda
- Meet Firefighter Allie Feys
- Meet Firefighter Chelsea Utzerath
- Meet Firefighter Heather Seeber
- Meet Firefighter Devin Rogers
- Meet Firefighter Jessie Bowden
- Meet Firefighter Seth Dahmen
- Meet Firefighter Josh Popanz
- Meet Firefighter Ryan Liss
- Meet Firefighter Lexi Wagner
- Meet Firefighter Julie Griessmeyer
- Meet Firefighter Jay Watson
- Meet Recruit Class 8!
- Rick Mulhern, Leader In Technical Rescue and Peer Support, Retires From MFD
- Burn Awareness Week: About UW Hospital's Burn Center
- Burn Awareness Week: Identifying and Treating Burns
- Burn Awareness Week: Sunburn and Frostbite
- Burn Awareness Week: Home Oxygen Safety
- Burn Awareness Week: Preventing Cooking-Related Scalds and Burns
- Meet Firefighter Brennan Boughton
- Meet Firefighter Mike Lothe
- Meet Firefighter Mitch Hanson
- Meet Firefighter Sam Coenen
- Meet Firefighter Marshall Angst
- Meet Firefighter Brandon Courts
- Meet Firefighter Grahm Yahn
- Meet Firefighter Tom Shannon
- Meet Firefighter Joe Parrillo
- Meet Firefighter Ryan Dostalek
- MFD Introduces Recruit Class 7!
- MFD's Community Education Division Teaches Kids To BE AWARE
- LEARN Two Ways Out Of Every Room
- LISTEN For The Sound Of The Smoke Alarm
- LOOK: Fire Hazards May Lurk In Your Home
- First Annual Richard Garner Memorial Ride Raises Over $14,000 For Scholarship Fund
- Meet Lieutenant Zak Smith
- Meet Lieutenant Eric Mills
- We Send Our Condolences To Sun Prairie Today
- Meet Lieutenant Liza Tatar
- Meet Lieutenant David Crossen II
- Four New Lieutenants Assume Position At Area Fire Stations
- National EMS Memorial Bike Ride Pays A Visit To Station 4
- Engine 10 Helps Reunite Mama Duck With Four Stranded Ducklings
- Home Fire Sprinklers: A Small Investment That Could Save Your Life
- New Aerial Platform Ladder Truck Hits The Road On Madison's West Side
- Show Us Your Smarts: Take the Home Fire Sprinkler Quiz!
- Fire Sprinkler Protection: See the Difference!
- Hiding In Plain Sight: Choosing Concealed Fire Sprinklers
- The Truth About Home Fire Sprinklers
- Seconds Matters: How Home Fire Sprinklers Save Lives
- Meet Firefighter Michael Samosky
- Meet Firefighter Nickolas George
- Meet Firefighter Desmond Leidich
- Meet Firefighter Kyle Kampmeier
- Meet Firefighter Jonathan Clinkscale
- Meet Firefighter John Clooten
- Meet Firefighter McKinnan Stamschror
- Meet Firefighter Ryan Raisbeck
- Meet Firefighter Daniel Ramirez
- Meet Firefighter Brett Bower
- Meet Firefighter Bryce Powell
- Meet Firefighter Daniel Congdon
- Meet Firefighter Larry Moen
- Meet Firefighter Charles Campbell
- Meet Firefighter Casey Endres
- Meet Firefighter Benjamin Nevarez
- Recruit Class 6 Reports For Duty
- New Solar Panels Installed At Fire Station 12
- Fire Prevention Week: Fire Prevention Quiz
- Fire Prevention Week: Easy-To-See House Numbers Help Us Find You Faster!
- Fire Prevention Week: Practice Your Escape Plan!
- Fire Prevention Week: How To Make A Home Fire Escape Plan
- Fire Prevention Week: Every Second Counts -- Know 2 Ways Out!
- Now Accepting Firefighter Applications!
- CampHERO for Women Coming Up Saturday!
- A 'Thank You' Note To Our Partners On Stratton Way
- Madison Launches 'PulsePoint Verified Responder' Pilot Program
- Meet Lieutenant Jeffery Vogen
- Meet Lieutenant Chris Hammes
- Meet Lieutenant Wes Ecker
- Meet Lieutenant Chris Carbon
- Meet Lieutenant Linnea Anderson
- Meet Lieutenant Dan Williams
- MFD Introduces Six New Lieutenants!
- Upcoming Community Events!
- ER Docs Dive Into Firefighting During 'Doc Ops Day'
- MFD Lends Helping Hand At Gilbert Brown Football Camp
- Special Delivery: “Beltline Jax” Makes A Grand Entrance
- New Lease On Life: Oregon Man Reconnects With Crew That Helped Save Him
- 235 New Smoke Alarms Move Into Sherman Terrace!
- Captain Todd Steyer Wraps Up A Fulfilling 30-Year Career With MFD
- Calling All Volunteers! CampHERO Kicks Off Its 6th Season
- EMS Q&A: Where can I learn CPR?
- EMS Q&A: Did you know MFD paramedics are also firefighters?
- EMS Q&A: What should I expect after calling for an ambulance?
- EMS Q&A: What’s the difference between an EMT and a Paramedic? How many paramedics are on duty?
- EMS Q&A: Why does a fire truck come when I call for an ambulance?
- Meet Firefighter Maj-Britt Williams
- Meet Firefighter Adam Thimmig
- Meet Firefighter Ruth Savard
- Meet Firefighter Mike Reisman
- Meet Firefighter Trent Meicher
- Meet Firefighter Jonathon McCray
- Meet Firefighter Adam Lesser
- Meet Firefighter Patrick Johnson
- Meet Firefighter Kyle Homan
- Meet Firefighter Joe Gangler
- Meet Firefighter Justin Fehrenbach
- Meet Firefighter Matthew Dykstra
- Meet Firefighter Brandon Douglas
- Meet Firefighter Tamara Dinkel
- Meet Firefighter Marta Darrow
- Meet Firefighter Davy Calkins
- Meet Firefighter Ryan Beckwith
- MFD Introduces 18 New Firefighters!
- A Greener Firehouse: How Fire Station 12 LEEDs the Way
- Meet AE Brad Vogen
- Meet AE Vince Soto
- Meet AE Chad Powell
- Meet AE Daniel Pazurek
- Meet AE Todd Mahoney
- Meet Apparatus Engineer Cole Christenson
- Meet AE Derek Brown
- New Apparatus Engineers Now Serving In Your Neighborhood!
- Dane County EMS Banquet Honors Survivors, Responders Involved In Cardiac Saves
- On This Day In History: The First 911 Call Is Placed In 1968
- PHOTOS: Getting Up Close With The Lake Rescue Team
- Sable Flames "Second Alarm" Benefit Enters Its 24th Year
- Madison's Iranian Community Comes Together To Honor Firefighters
- Building Connections, Inspiring Kids: Engine 12 At Olson Elementary School
- Welcome Home: Cooper's Hawk Returns To Willy Street
- The Results Are In: 91 Donations Collected During the “Never Forget” Blood Drive
- Meet AE Ethan Dade
- Meet AE Wade Raddatz
- Meet AE Lance Radock
- Meet AE Jacob Conner
- Meet AE Dan Smith
- Meet AE Kevin Hembrook
- National Preparedness Month: Special Needs Disaster Planning
- Meet AE Tom Winter
- Meet AE Lori Karst
- MFD Introduces Eight New Apparatus Engineers
- Reflections On This 15th Anniversary Of 9/11
- Generous Grant Brings New "Jaws Of Life" Equipment To Ladder 6
- National Preparedness Month: Creating Communication and Evacuation Plans
- National Preparedness Month: Don't Wait. Communicate.
- Project SOAR and the MFD
- “Doc Ops Day” Gives ER Docs A Taste Of Firefighter Life
- Two Years After Accident, Family And First Responders Celebrate 'A Miracle'
- Madison Fire Aims To Keep Injuries Well Under Par At PGA Championships
- “It’s Been A Great Ride," Says Retiring Driver John Lucille
- A Thank-You Gift For All To Enjoy
- “Friday Nights At the Y” Returns In 2016
- Meet Lt. Lisa Becher
- Meet Lt. Derek Teff
- Meet Lt. Casey Preimesberger
- Resources For Candidates Preparing For the Physical Ability Test
- Meet Lt. Sue Juedes
- Meet Lt. Ted Higgins
- Meet Lt. Matthew Mialik
- Meet Lt. Michael McCartney
- MFD Introduces Seven New Lieutenants
- Inside The Galaxie: Making Madison's Newest High Rise Safer For All
- Edgewood Students Donate Stuffed Animals For Kids Experiencing Trauma
- Apparatus Engineer "Recon Bob" Says Goodbye After 25 Years Of Service
- New Boat Enhances MFD Lake Rescue Capabilities
- With Gratitude, Division Chief Ron Schwenn Bids Farewell To the MFD
- New Training Technology Aims to Offer Full Immersion, Minus the Risks
- In the Midst Of Transitions, Our Crews Don't Miss A Beat
- Finance Manager Rita Johnson Retires After 44 Years With the City
- Farewell to West District Captain Tom Reiter
- Meet Firefighter Caluster Buie
- Meet Firefighter Steven Foulks
- Meet Firefighter Richard Miyagawa
- Meet Firefighter Joshua Balli
- Meet Firefighter Matthew Boyle
- Meet Firefighter Oscar Castillo
- Meet Firefighter David Bartkowiak
- Meet Firefighter Christopher Staveness
- Meet Firefighter Michael Guerten
- Meet Firefighter Marcus Bobholz
- Meet Firefighter Joshua Ramsey
- Meet Firefighter Michael Olson
- Meet Firefighter Eric Popovich
- Meet Firefighter Paul Schecklman
- Meet Firefighter Brian Tremain
- Meet Firefighter Cameron Gasaway
- Meet Firefighter Vaughn Brockel
- Why We Do What We Do: Remembering the Our Lady of the Angels Fire
- Meet Firefighter Brian Bieganski
- Farewell To AASPIRE Intern Casey Tubbs
- Meet Lt. Tim Hagen
- Meet Lt. Jeff Mast
- Meet Lt. Matt Thomas
- Meet Lt. AJ Greenlee
- Meet Lt. Chris Homman
- Join The Team Current News
- MFD Introduces Five New Lieutenants
- Saving Santa at Station 3
- MFD Mailbag: Kudos For the Crew of Engine 7A
- Madison Fire Recruit Class 4 Begins
- MFD Begins Serving Towns of Blooming Grove, Burke Today
- The Madison Fire Department Prepares For Inaugural "Shake the Lake" Event
- The Heavy Urban Rescue Team Practices Life-Saving Skills
- Safety Saturday 2015: A Day In Photos
- Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Boss Lift
- Firefighter Fun Day 2015 is Saturday, August 8
- Retired Firefighter Tim Healy Inducted Into Madison Sports Hall Of Fame
- Firefighter Ty Stebbins Sworn In
Emergency Medical Services
- 100 Black Men of Madison
- A Day In The Life Of A Madison Firefighter
- Alix Olson Award
- Awards & Recognition
- Battle Of the Badges
- Black History Month
- Burn Awareness Week
- CARE Program
- Central Storage Warehouse fire
- Community Outreach
- Dane County Public Safety Communications
- Emergency Operation Center
- Fire Academy
- Fire Admin Project
- Fire Hydrants
- Fire Prevention Division
- fire prevention month
- Fire Prevention Week
- Fire Safety School Tours
- Fire Stations
- Firefighter Fun Day
- Friday Nights at the Y
- Hazmat Team
- Heavy Urban Rescue Team
- Hiring & Promotions
- Home Fire Sprinklers
- Ice Safety
- Join the Team
- Lake Rescue Team
- Madison Fire EMS
- Madison Police
- Meet the MFD
- MFD Behind the Scenes
- MFD Frequently Asked Questions
- MFD Mailbag
- MFD Prevention Division
- National Preparedness Month
- Our Lady Of the Angels
- public health
- Public Safety
- Rural Water Movement
- Sable Flames
- Safety Town
- Shake the Lake
- The American Center
- Town of Blooming Grove
- Town of Burke
- Training & Professional Development
- UW Health
- Veterans Day
- Wanda Fullmore Youth Internship Program
- Winter Safety