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As a kitten growing up in St. Louis, Quincy Lou Melton once climbed about nine feet up a skinny tree. He could not get down


Firefighters Really Do Rescue Cats: Demythologizing an Urban Legend

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As a kitten growing up in St. Louis, Quincy Lou Melton once climbed about nine feet up a skinny tree. He could not get down without the aid of his owner. In the six years since that incident, Quincy (pictured at right, minutes after the conclusion of this blog post's central tale) has not attempted to climb a tree, or anything of significant elevation--until last night, when his climbing exploits necessitated the aid of a quartet of heroes from Highland Park Station 11 and its newishly acquired ladder truck.

Quincy's saga started Tuesday evening around 6:15, when my wife left our Highland Park home to pick me up at the water-taxi dock. Prior to doing so, she let Quincy and our second cat, Neko, outside. Upon our return, Neko came rushing to the door. Quincy, however, did not, which was unusual.

At around 8, we began to grow nervous and called for him incessantly. He was nowhere to be found. Having to return a movie, I drove my car to the bottom of the ravine which occupies the bulk of our property, hoping to suss out Quincy there. He was nowhere to be found, so off to the video store I went.

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The enormous roof that Quincy (barely visible atop it, toward the center) ascended.
Minutes later, my wife called. A neighbor, Chuck, whose house looks like the log-laden lodge in Dirty Dancing, had spotted Quincy--spooked into ascent by either firework or raccoon--on the roof of another neighbor's house. This is no normal house. In fact, it's the tallest house I've ever seen, approximately the size of a four-story apartment building. Chuck had a long ladder, but not that long, and there was no roof access from within the house. Mulling over our options, we concluded that we'd have to enlist the assistance of the Seattle Fire Department, wondering aloud whether the notion that firefighters rescue cats from high trees and roofs is the stuff of televised legend.

We called every non-emergency fire department number listed, and all went to voice mail. So I reluctantly dialed 911, prefacing my remarks to the operator with a "this isn't really an emergency" disclaimer. He politely explained to me that Quincy being stranded on the enormous roof didn't rise to a level where he was inclined to dispatch any sort of emergency assistance, and he gave me the number for a cat-rescue hotline that turned out to be some sort of arborist service. It didn't matter what they were, because they too were closed for the evening.

I decided to pay a personal visit to our local firehouse three blocks away. Through a window, I saw a handful of firefighters hanging out near the front door, and rang the after-hours bell. They answered, and I sheepishly asked them if they'd be willing to rescue a cat stranded on a roof down the street. They chuckled at the request, but quickly agreed to have a look.

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The SFD ladder truck which ferried Quincy's rescuers to their scene of immeasurable heroism.
Upon meeting me at the house, the leader of the squadron informed me that if they were to receive an actual emergency summons, they'd have to promptly split and come back, provided things calmed to a point where they could come back. Thankfully for Quincy, such a call never came. The engine's ladder slowly extended to the satellite dishes near where Quincy was standing. The contraption spooked him a bit, which made him tough to corral. But the mission was a success; upon being walked down the ladder to the ground below, Quincy leaped from his rescuer's arms and sprinted to our back deck, begging for shelter.

It didn't take long for an exhausted Quincy to calm down once he was safely inside. But our work wasn't done. Asking a team of firefighters to rescue a cat the day after the Fourth of July is a little like asking Cliff Lee to umpire a T-Ball game the day after he wins the seventh game of the World Series. It's way beneath their skill level, and you'd just as soon give them pause to appreciate the colossal accomplishment of the night before. There was only one thing that could make it right: frozen peanut butter and banana pie.

My wife had prepared the pie for us to share for dessert throughout the rest of the week. But there was a squadron of firefighters who deserved it far more than we did, and so the pie was wrapped in foil and driven down the road. They seemed to genuinely appreciate the gesture of gratitude, but we appreciated them more.

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