Emergency teams from across the Lehigh Valley descended on eastern Bethlehem Township Monday to aid in the rescue of a 16-year-old chocolate Lab named George who became stuck in a sinkhole that opened beneath his paws right outside his home.
Rescue crews pulled the dog to safety after a seven-hour drama that played out in the back yard of 4590 William Penn Highway, the home of George’s owners, Daniel and Carolyn Kenny.
The dog seemed tired, but was moving and otherwise seemed uninjured, according to Shawn Lubenetski, a member of the Lehigh County Special Operations unit.
Lubenetski was the first to reach the dog, freeing it from the tight confines of a space it had wedged itself into.
“He was actually helping me once I started pulling on him,” Lubenetski said. “I was able to get my arm under him and pulled him up and he started pushing with his front legs.”
Rescue workers, using some kind of fabric sleeve, carried the large dog to ground level, where a veterinarian was waiting to whisk it to an animal hospital.
Bethlehem Township rescue companies were first called at about 3pm after Carolyn Kenny realized what had happened to George.
At that point, the hole was barely big enough for the dog to slip into, according to Bernie Roecker, the fire marshal for the who was among the first to arrive. Roecker said that when he looked down into the hole, he could see George’s tail wagging.
The sinkhole seemed to form around the edge of an underground cistern, which complicated rescue efforts, Roecker said.
Township sewer employees were called to help excavate the ground around the hole with a front-end loader.
By the time the dog was rescued, dozens of rescue vehicles and workers had responded, including those from Bethlehem Township, Hecktown, Palmer Township, West Easton, Catasauqua and the animal rescue squads from Lehigh and Northampton counties.
Lehigh County Special Operations rescue is a unit that specializes in technical rescues, such as confined spaces, high angles, structural collapses, hazardous materials and the occasional animal rescue.
It is comprised of volunteer firefighters who are paid to respond for special operations calls. Lubenetski, 35, of Lehigh Township, volunteers for the Lehigh Township and Emmaus fire companies.
An animal lover, Lubenetski said he has climbed 80 feet to rescue a cat. He has three dogs at home, including two Labs.
The scene was a sea of lights and emergency vehicles. A ladder-truck ladder hovered over the excavated hole with ropes descending from it. Rescue workers hitched themselves to those ropes before crawling into the neck of the sinkhole.
Emergency Medical Technicians from Allentown also responded, a precaution in case the delicate underground rescue operation resulted in a cave-in around the firefighters who were trying to reach George, said Township Manager Howard Kutzler. Allentown EMS workers are specially trained to deal with crushing injuries.
Fortunately for Lubenetski and George, their services were not necessary.