PUBLIC SERVICE

To the rescue: Firefighters pull out stops to save trapped animals

 
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cteproff@MiamiHerald.com

With a taste for exotic flowers and a bit of wild side, she wandered into a neighbor’s plant nursery in western Davie.

What she didn’t know: An old rickety bridge leading to the promised land couldn’t take her pleasantly plump frame.

Before she knew it, the large brown cow found herself in a precarious situation — with three of her four legs dangling through the old wooden planks over a canal.

And that’s when the commotion started.

Sirens, helicopters, heavy equipment.

So how do you free a scared cow from a partially collapsed bridge?

“She was all shaken up. It was a lot for her to undertake,” said Jesse Durko, the neighbor whose property the cow visited on Feb. 4.

But after a couple of hours and a “lot of manpower,” Durko said, the cow was hoisted from the wooden planks with a back-hoe and harness contraption and put down on the ground courtesy of the Davie Fire Rescue Department, with an assist from neighboring Southwest Ranches and some farmers.

It took her a while and little nudging, but the cow — who has since given birth to calves — walked it off and is now enjoying a quieter life on her own side of the fence.

“This story has a happy ending,” Durko said.

The cow has plenty of company when it comes to animals getting in trouble.

Across South Florida, dozens of critters, large and small, have been rescued in dramatic fashion in recent months. Firefighters have plucked ducks from storm drains, kitties from car engines, birds from fishing lines, dogs from fires, cats wedged in walls. Sometimes rescued pets even get an oxygen mask made just for them for easier placement over their snouts.

“We live in a civilized society and all life is precious,” said Fort Lauderdale Division Chief Bob Bacic. “If you go to any pet owner their pet is part of the family.”

And while most departments don’t have a written formula for when they draw the line on saving an animal, most say they will do whatever they can.

“Sometimes we have to make a decision how much we risk for an animal verses how much we risk for a human being,” said Davie Battalion Chief Jorge Gonzalez.

Firefighters get the call “when no one else knows what to do,” Gonzalez said. “We get these calls on a pretty regular basis.”

Not all calls are as complicated or dramatic as saving a cow from a bridge, but Gonzalez said sometimes a simple call — an animal stuck somewhere — doesn’t always mean an easy rescue.

On Feb. 17, Davie got a call that a Pomeranian puppy named Sugar had plunged into a pipe sticking up from the grass.

Gonzalez said when rescuers first arrived, they could hear Sugar’s yelps, but couldn’t figure out where he had gone. What rescuers thought would be a quick save, turned into a four-hour ordeal, with the use of heavy digging equipment, cameras and an oxygen mask.

Sugar ended up about nine feet underground and about 25 feet from where he fell. He was wet and dirty but in one piece and back in his loving parents arms after a detail-filled and tense rescue.

“It was a doubt like after the third hour it was like are they really gonna find him?” the puppy’s owner Lorenzo Crout-Flint said after the drama ended.

But firefighters, who summoned help from the city of Sunrise’s utility department and other agencies, wouldn’t give up.

“We couldn’t just leave him down there,” Gonzalez said.

Stephanie Bell, a cruelty case work director in the Cruelty Investigations Department for PETA, said the public expects fire rescue to help animals as they do humans.

“The public expectation is that animals in distress are deserving of help and that its never acceptable to leave them to languish,” said Bell, who added that the agency recognized Davie Fire Rescue for going to all lengths to save Sugar. “The response is really driven by the public.”

And while some departments provide training for firefighters on how to rescue large animals, there really is no exact science on how to get animals out of sticky situations. They often turn to their technical equipment that is used to save people trapped beneath objects or in difficult spaces to reach. Sometimes the rescuers consult with a veterinarian or call in other resources including Florida Power & Light, which can provide bucket trucks or other high-reaching equipment.

“We are the fire department,” said Mike Jachles, the spokesman for Broward Sheriff Office’s Fire Rescue. “When you call us we respond, whether it’s helping someone who has fallen out of a bed or an animal stuck somewhere.”

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue spokesman Arnold Piedrahita Jr. said with a lot of farms and rural areas in South Miami-Dade, his department can expect calls reporting a cow stuck on an embankment or a horse stuck in a fence. When the department gets the alarm, it summons a vetenarian in case a tranquilizer is needed (for the animal, not the firefighters). When a snake, or even another animal, is involved, the county’s venerated venom response team also may respond.

“You never know how an animal is going to react,” he said.

But not all rescues are as technical. Sometimes its just a matter of figuring out how to coax the animal out.

When a kitten got stuck in the engine of a Mercedes in Weston, it was the Broward Sheriff’s Office that responded. With a little soapy water, patience and some coaxing, the scared kitty survived and so did the car.

Many departments now have pet oxygen masks designed to fit over a snout that have been donated by different organizations. Fort Lauderdale’s division chief Bacic said the masks came in handy when they rescued a dog from an apartment fire Feb. 14. When crews responded to the fire on Holiday Drive that evening., they found heavy smoke on the 14th floor. After doing initial checks they found a dog trapped in the apartment.

They quickly grabbed the dog and treated it for smoke inhalation.

“It’s a great feeling being able to say we saved someone’s pet,” Bacic said.

Lt. Ignatius Carroll of Miami Fire Rescue said his department often rescues animals that aren’t pets, but still deserve a chance.

Earlier in the year, Miami Fire rescued two kittens from an abandoned house on fire. Firefighters even tried to find the kitties a home.

“We all have a soft spot for animals,” he said.

Read more Miami-Dade stories from the Miami Herald

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