Lt. Adam Moss had prepared for 10 years for these few moments.
When he needed clear thoughts, smooth movements and courage to dangle at the end of a rope and make a rescue in frigid chest-deep water and muck at the bottom of a hand-dug well, instincts gained through hours of grueling training kicked into gear.
Moss sank into the water next to a numb 11-year-old boy and asked him the one question he knew would get Emery Howard’s mind off the pain of a clearly broken arm.
“I asked him about his girlfriend,” Moss said.
From that point, Moss knew he would be all right.
Moss strung together a webbed harness, pulled the boy tight, clipped the harness onto his own, held him face to face and yelled out “Ready to haul!”
“Haul away!” came the response from above.
It took a team of at least two dozen rescuers – from two fire departments, the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office, county EMS, a helicopter pilot and an on-flight nurse – to coordinate Howard’s rescue Tuesday night from a situation veteran firefighters said they had never encountered before.
He had suffered a compound fracture to his upper arm and hypothermia, Lt. Tim Ridgeway said in a briefing after the incident.
Late Wednesday afternoon, Howard was released from Greenville Memorial Hospital, said Sandy Dees, a hospital spokeswoman.
In a statement issued through the health system, Howard’s family thanked Emery’s 12-year-old companion and first responders “for their quick actions that saved his life.”
“We are also thankful for the prayers and kind thoughts from many people,” the family said.
The ordeal began late Tuesday afternoon when Howard and a friend wandered onto the porch of an abandoned house at the corner of Highway 101 and Fews Chapel Road a short walk from their homes.
Howard jumped on what he thought was the porch deck boards but they gave way and he plunged into a well that lay hidden beneath the deck, authorities said.
His friend ran to a neighbor’s house to call for help.
A three-person crew from Lake Cunningham Fire Department’s Station 2 arrived first.
The crew knew they were responding to a fall, but they didn’t know it was a well, and they didn’t know the only way to get into the well was through the back porch of a house, said Lt. Kevin Hopkins, the incident commander for the rescue operation.
One firefighter had to be pulled out after about 40 minutes because his legs were going numb.
In the meantime, one of the county’s Emergency Response Teams arrived from Piedmont Park Fire Department.
And driving the truck to the scene was Moss, who firefighters have nicknamed Peanut.
Moss said he takes some ribbing in the firehouse for his slight frame. Hopkins said that is why they call him Peanut.
Moss’ size made him the ideal choice to drop into the well and complete the rescue. He harnessed up, clipped in and glided down to reach Howard, who had spent 90 minutes submerged to his shoulders in water.
“I was there ready to go and I got into the hole,” Moss said. “From that time forward all I was, was the hands and eyes of the command and operations team up top.”
The piece of wood that had collapsed on the porch had fallen and wedged Howard against one side of the well so Howard couldn’t move much, Moss said.
“When I entered, I had to go into the water with him, face to face, talk to him, calm him down, let him know that we’re going to get out of here, and then attach him to me,” Moss said.
When the pair emerged, Moss lay on his back on the porch with Howard, still attached, on top of him.
Moss said he’d never performed a well rescue before this week.