The captain of my engine company was off for a couple of hours at the beginning of the February 18 shift. As engineer, it's my job to act as captain when he's gone. So, it was under my command that the first call of the tour was to rescue a cat out of a tree. ::sigh::
My department serves a small but growing suburban town. We operate one engine company (mine) with a minimum of three career firefighters around the clock. We handle the vast majority of the department's runs -- medical emergencies, minor motor vehicle accidents, odor investigations, service calls, etc. For everything else, we still depend on a group of volunteer firefighter to staff the other pieces of apparatus. We also have a couple of neighboring departments who are willing to help when needed.
People move to my city because of the services we provide. They move here because they don't want to be treated like just a number. So, my fire department in particular prides itself on delivering top-notch "customer service." We do a lot of things some departments wouldn't. However, we -- at least I -- do not (usually) get cats out of trees. The simple fact is that cats will climb down. It's silly to have a firefighter clawed to death trying to rescue a cat that probably doesn't want to be rescued.
When citizens call to request such a service, I do my best to talk them out of it. First, I suggest putting cat food at the bottom of the tree & leaving the cat alone. That's usually the best route. If the caller doesn't like that one, I tell them that we only rescue animals who are in direct danger (i.e. large, rabid rottweilers circling the bottom of the tree). Finally, I insist that the cat have been in the tree for a great number of hours. (Sorry that it escaped 15 minutes ago when you went to start the car and now you'll be late to work.) For several years, at least one of those always worked.
On the morning of the 18th... I used all three. And, for the first time, they all failed. The woman on the phone said that she had tried everything. She stated that the cat was an indoor cat and was outside for only the third or fourth time ever. She said that birds were attacking it in the tree and that the cat had been in the tree for more than three hours. She sounded desperate. I gave in. We went.
If there was any doubt that we'd plunk the cat from the tree, it ended when we arrived on scene. The woman that had called told us how this cat was purchased as a replacement pet after their dog died. Then, her three-year-old daughter looked up at the two firefighters in my company and asked, "are you going to get my cat down?" Satan himself would have had trouble telling this girl no. So, we threw a ladder. We sent a man up. The cat seemed genuinely relieved to be down. And we saved the day... especially in the eyes of that three-year-old girl.
The karma we cast upon the rest of the shift... Well, that's another story.