Firefighters in rain-soaked Harrison, Wisconsin, were tasked with saving a boy who reportedly swept into a storm drain. The incident occurred when a group of boys were playing in the evening.
The 11-year-old boy was having a good time with friends before moving too close to a drainage culvert when he was dragged into the culvert.
Soon, the Calumet Count Sheriff’s deputies arrived along with a team of divers and volunteer firefighters. The team combed the nearby ponds and ditches for nearly 45 minutes while the water levels kept rising.
When it became clear that the boy had been sucked into the storm drain system, Deputy Fire Chief Wesley Pompa realized that the only way to save the child would be to intercept him somewhere downstream.
“The suction was too strong for us to even put anyone near the pipe,” Pompa told. He then approached village road superintendent, Bob Kesler, who brought the maps of the drainage system.
The pair were standing atop a manhole cover about 30 feet away from the culvert entrance, studying the maps, when Pompa looked down and saw a fingertip.
“I looked down, and I seen the boy’s finger come up through the hole [in a manhole cover],” he told WFRV. “We instantly dropped down to our knees to start prying the cover open.”
Once the firemen got the heavy cover off the hole, the saw they boy clinging to a ladder.
“We could hear him yelling, which was an awesome sign,” Pompa said. “We reached down and grabbed him and pulled him up.”
The chances of survival looked bleak as the team were struggling to locate the actual location of the boy.
After the boy was sucked into the culvert, he was whisked down the pipe until he came to the manhole cover.
Even though the entire street was submerged under 6 inches of water, there was an air pocket trapped under the manhole cover. The boy popped up into the air pocket and by sheer luck was able to grab the ladder.
The boy had to cling to the ladder for 45 minutes as the water rushed by, tugging at him. Even after the water level dropped, the boy had to cling to the ladder—if he had fallen back into the pipe he would have been carried further into the drain system.
Even then, the boy needed almost a miraculous twist of fate to be saved. There was no way for the 11-year-old to lift the cast-iron manhole cover. If Pompa had no happened to be standing in the right spot, and had not happened to look down at the right moment, the poor boy would have been stuck in the drain system with no way out.
“I just thank God he was alive and he’d made it that long,” Pompa said. “It could have gone a million different ways but this one way it worked out for him.”