A small deer was rescued by firefighters and a game warden Tuesday morning after venturing onto the thin ice of the Kennebec River in the Hinckley section of Fairfield.

The deer, a doe, had fallen through the ice into open water off U.S. Route 201 and was struggling to climb back onto the ice near the Hinckley Bridge, Skowhegan Fire Chief Shawn Howard said.

Game Warden Chad Robinson went to the scene and called members of the Skowhegan Fire Department water rescue team for assistance. A command post was set up on River Road on the Clinton side of the river.

“We used our Rescue Alive sled, which we got from fundraising events we did a couple years ago,” Howard said. “The deer was out about 600 feet from the shore. It had been out there a long time. By the time we reached her, she was very exhausted.”

Firefighter Scott Libby and Capt. Jason Frost went onto the ice and into the frigid water of the Kennebec and grabbed the deer with an animal catch pole. They were wearing Sterns rescue suits, which are flotation suits made to be used in icy water. The suits kept the crew members on top of the water, Howard said.

Howard, firefighter Linwood Corson and Robinson were on shore with a rope to drag the sled – and the deer – to safety.

Rescuers then wrapped the deer in a blanket.

“It’s certainly not safe ice,” Howard said. “It was open at the center, and she broke through the thin ice. She had an area of an 8- or 10-foot diameter circle that had busted through, and that’s where she was trapped. She couldn’t haul herself back up onto the ice.”

Howard said the deer was a full-grown doe, about 2½ years old and weighing around 120 pounds.

“We got her back to shore and we wrapped her up in blankets and carefully massaged her, breaking the ice off her. The water had froze on her, and she was covered in ice,” he said. “We were able, with our hands, to just rub her down. When she got to shore, she was very, very weak and tired with her head down. After 15 minutes of us stimulating her, she had her head up and we got her up over the river bank.”

Howard said the deer eventually stood up, still a little wobbly, and made her way across the road and into the woods.

He said the department has rescued dogs from the water before Tuesday, but never a deer. Howard said part of the reason for such a rescue is that if members of the public see a deer stranded on ice on a lake or a river, they will attempt to go out and save it themselves, possibly leading to the need to rescue a person on the ice.

“I’d rather have us do it than have some bystanders come along and risk their lives,” he said. “My advice is stay off the ice. River ice is dangerous all winter long.”