In Harm's Way

Wave to a conservation agent, and he or she will wave back. Stop to talk about wildlife or fishing or land management, and the agent will fill your brain with information gleaned from spending days in the field contacting other anglers, hunters and landowners.

Conservation agents check licenses, talk to schoolchildren, occasionally write tickets for illegal fishing methods. They patrol lakes, rivers and streams, sometimes floating in a canoe, other times hidden in the brush. Some of their job activities may seem fun, others monotonous.

Always lurking, for the agent, however, is the threat of too much excitement. Dangerous situations crop up suddenly and almost always without warning. Any call or contact, no matter how routine it may seem, could put a conservation agent in harm's way.

Harrison County Conservation Agent Bill Lenhart, for example, was returning home after handling a call about a sick raccoon when he heard an emergency radio dispatch about a 12-year-old boy falling through the ice in a rural pond. He stopped at his home to pick up a lifesaving package of a 30-foot rope, a long pole and a lifejacket he keeps at the ready in his garage and headed to the pond.

After cutting a hole in a fence to allow his truck and other emergency vehicles to get near the pond, Lenhart put on a lifejacket, crawled out onto the ice and tried to reach the boy with a long pole. He came up short, however. When he tried another approach, he fell through the ice about 6 feet away from the boy.

Lenhart chose to stay in the numbing water about five minutes, rather than allowing himself to be pulled in with the rope around his waist by the gathering crowd, so he could keep the frightened child's spirits up, while waiting for the fire department to arrive with a ladder.

Lenhart then exited the water and rode and slid the ladder over the ice until he was able to reach out and lift the boy out by his collar. The people on shore pulled the ladder like a sled back to land.

"It was cold, but the adrenalin was running like it would in any other emergency situation," Lenhart said. "The boy was lucky. He'd been in the water a full 30 minutes. If we hadn't had that rope and the other equipment ready, we'd have been stuck. But you have to be ready. You never know when