Firefighters rescue man and his dog from tar pit

Posted: Tuesday, July 17, 2001

FAIRBANKS - Rescuers had to use a little ingenuity to free a man and his dog after they became stuck in a North Pole tar pit.

Area firefighters made a makeshift platform out of discarded wood and pulled the pudding-like substance from Mike Conley and his 10-year-old chocolate Labrador, Twister, on Sunday.

"We had to improvise," said North Pole Volunteer Fire Department Battalion Chief Ernie Misewicz. "You don't train for these kinds of things."

Conley, Twister and a friend, Steven Townsend, were on their way to take Twister swimming in a gravel pit Sunday evening.

The dog bounded around a hill and out of sight. Conley called him, then went searching. When Conley found Twister, the dog was lying in the tar pit at an old construction site.

Conley went after the dog. About 8 feet from the edge of the pit, he became stuck up to his knees. Townsend tried a rescue, but after a few failed attempts, decided he should get help.

"He's lucky he had his friend with him to go get help or else he may still be there," Misewicz said.

When firefighters arrived at about 9 p.m., they found Conley with tar on his arms up to his elbows and from mid-thigh all the way down. He was holding up his dog's head. Twister's body was caked in tar.

"He's a brown dog, but when we got there, he was mostly black," Misewicz said.

Firefighters first had to pull tar from Conley's legs until he could get out.

Twister's rescue was more complicated. Rescuers had to shovel gravel between the struggling dog and tar to create a buffer zone.

"We had to basically work from back end forward," Misewicz said. The rescue took about two hours.

Out of the pit, Conley used soap and diesel fuel to clean up.

A veterinarian shaved 80 percent of the dog's hair to remove the tar.

Misewicz said land owner Buck Walsky of Anchorage told him the 40-by-70 foot tar pit had been there for decades. "I think it just got hot because of the hot sun," Misewicz said.

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