'Quite an adventure': Dutch firefighter helps rescue prized calf from 40-foot well in Texas
COMANCHE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – A Texas volunteer fire department responded to an unusual call last week: A prized breeding calf was trapped at the bottom of a 100-plus-year-old well.
On Friday, Feb. 17, volunteer firefighter Martijn Verschueren was headed out to dinner with a friend after work when he got a message from the chief of the Comanche Volunteer Fire Department (VFD).
Verschueren then headed to Crosswind Ranch on a rescue mission.
“It was quite an adventure that I will never forget,” Verschueren said. “At the moment, it feels kind of unrealistic, like a dream.”
Verschueren was born in the Netherlands but grew up in neighboring Belgium. He told Nexstar’s KTAB he spent his childhood running around his grandfather’s farmland. At an early age, it instilled in him a love of agriculture, specifically working with cattle. He also dreamed of being a firefighter.
A year and a half ago, he began living out both of those dreams in Texas. His love for the state began when, at 15 years old, he interned at the Volleman’s Family Farm in Gustine. Now at 23, he’s working as a business development manager.
But his passions and experiences paid off last Friday.
Ranch owner Jason Davis said one of their prized breeding calves had fallen down a 40-foot-deep well. The animal was discovered after an echoey, anxious bellow was heard coming from what looked like a bottomless pit.
After some deliberation and what Davis called “redneck ingenuity,” they came up with a pully system using his skid-steer’s adjustable arm, which would allow them to lower a firefighter down into the well and, hopefully, retrieve the calf in the process.
Standing at nearly 6 feet, 3 inches, and with a lanky build, Verschueren was the perfect size to lower down.
“He was our 2022 rookie of the year,” Comanche VFD Chief Jeffrey Jacinto said. “Martijn is always willing to respond. Maybe that’s another reason he got volun-told to go down the well.”
However, another challenge would soon present itself: No one knew if the calf was injured or not.
The bottom of the well was only five feet wide and somewhat concave — creating somewhat of a bowl shape. Verschueren had little to no wiggle room as the 400-pound calf anxiously awaited help.
“From there, it was all improvising,” Verschueren said. “We used a big utility bag as a harness for [firefighters] to lift him up. It could hold nearly 2,000 pounds, so we knew it would work.”
Lowering the utility bag down, Verschueren used his dairy farm experience to calm the young bull by sticking his fingers in the calf’s mouth and triggering suckling. That allowed him enough time to carefully harness the calf, doublecheck the straps, and communicate via walkie-talkie that the calf was ready to be pulled up.
“As soon as he hit the ground, he wanted to run off but swung back to me,” Davis said of the calf. “It took us a little while to get him unhooked, but then he walked off, momma called him by the fence, he got to nursing and that was that.”
As Martijn was waiting for the next pully ride up after the calf’s rescue, he had a few moments to consider a different kind of danger.
“I am scared to death of snakes. I hate snakes,” Verschueren said, laughing. “There was a moment that I thought, ‘Oh, let’s look around for a second for snakes.'” Luckily, he didn’t encounter any.
The calf was mostly unharmed aside from a cut around his right eye. Davis said the ranch named the young bull “McClure” after Midland, Texas, native Jessica McClure, who fell in her aunt’s backyard well in 1987.
Chief Jacinto said the Comanche VFD is also changing an old belief about firefighters.
“Fire departments rescue cats out of trees. I guess we don’t do that. We pull cows out of wells,” Jacinto laughed.
Jacinto told KTAB this was the second calf-in-well rescue he’s seen in his 30 years as a firefighter — both of which happened within the last six years.