DALTON, Ohio (WJW) – A few days before Christmas 2019, Ryan Sprunger was heading home from church when the East Wayne assistant fire chief heard the call that at least two people had fallen through ice into a freezing farm pond.
“I happened to have a throw rope and stuff in my truck and we got the call. I was close to it so instead of coming to the fire station, I went directly to the call,” said Sprunger.
Authorities later learned that there were three people in the water: a four-year-old who wandered onto the ice, his six-year-old brother who attempted to help him and their grandfather who also fell through the ice attempting to rescue them both.
“I was the first one there and I saw the grandfather and a child in the pond and immediately I took my throw rope and threw it to them, but it was just a little too short,” said Sprunger.
Fire Chief Kyle Nussbaum was next to the scene. He held onto one end of Sprunger’s rope while the assistant fire chief wandered onto the ice and into the freezing water, without any thermal protection, to do what he could.
“Our first thought was just to get them a rope and try to pull them out. Well, by that time they were starting to drown, so the decision was made just to jump in and grab them and get them out as quickly as we could,” said Sprunger.
Four-year-old Jenson Hodge, his brother and grandfather were rescued from the freezing water, but Jenson later died.
For his heroic effort, Sprunger was at the White House on Monday were he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Valor.
“I found out they average about 160 nominations a year and by law they can only give out five, so just to be one of the five to receive this is just incredible,” said Sprunger.
Although he was the first there and the first in the water, he credits the rescues to a team effort.
For all of those who were at the scene, the heartbreaking death of the four-year-old still lingers. The department has since created what they call ‘Jenson’s ropes,’ rescue throw ropes which can be mounted around farm ponds throughout the area.
The department created 40 such ropes, but they say the demand for them was so great that they made and distributed 100 of them.
All of the rescuers who were at the scene that day are being honored in Columbus, Ohio on Wednesday with the Star of Life Award for their efforts.
“I just really enjoy helping the community, just help save lives and protect property and things like that. It’s just our goal. We are not here to get recognition,” said Sprunger.