I should have known. It was Memorial Day weekend, and when I am alone bad things seem to happen.
Several years ago on the actual Monday holiday, a storm of epic proportions blew through my neighborhood, leaving the maple trees in my front yard a bizarre twisted shape, causing a huge branch on my neighbor’s oak tree to come crashing down on top of a car parked at another neighbor’s house and, in the process, bringing down power lines.
Wires were popping everywhere. The street in front of my house was no place to be, but most of the excitement was over when my wife arrived home from work. “You missed it,” I said. “I thought the world was ending, but I made it through OK.” I lied.
Last Saturday was a beautiful day, no storms on the horizon, just home alone again, power-washing the patio and mowing the yard. Nothing could go wrong. But it was Memorial Day weekend.
Power-washing makes a lot of noise, and my attention was focused on removing moss from between the brick pavers. But out of the corner of my eye, I saw our male cat, Zac, sprint behind me, round the corner of the house and disappear. I didn’t know if he was running from a dog or was spooked by the noise of the power washer.
Nevertheless, I walked out front in time to see him heading down the street, make a sharp right and disappear again. I went looking, thinking he might have found refuge behind a neighbor’s house, under a car or in a garage, never thinking he would jump down a storm drain.
But something made me look down a metal grate and call his name. Soon, his head appeared from a pipe running under the street. My first thought was to lift the grate and hope Zac would come out.
I sought help from a neighbor. Neither of us could budge it; our crowbars failed and so did a makeshift ladder of hockey sticks wedged behind the grate and down into the drain. Basically, we gave up. I said if he got in, he could get out.
But as I was standing in the street after my third of fourth attempts to call the cat out, my wife arrived home, this time from Pittsburgh.
“What are you doing standing in the street?” she asked.
“Well, Zac is in the storm drain and he won’t come out.”
“Well, what have you done to get him out?” she asked.
“Well, we tried to lift the grate off but couldn’t get it to move an inch,” I said. “Anyway, he will come out when he is ready.”
That didn’t sit well with my wife. She went home, called 911 and was informed that a cat in a storm drain was not an emergency. But she was told to call the non-emergency number of the East Washington police department.
And fortunately for us, and eventually for Zac, Officer Robert Caldwell answered the phone. He soon arrived at the site and informed us he called the Washington fire department to come out.
Soon, we heard the unmistakable sound of a fire truck. Three firefighters, Pat Bell, Chuck Nourigat and Jared Ross, walked toward us carrying crowbars and other tools. It appeared the only thing they left on their truck was the Jaws of Life.
In a few minutes the grate was lifted up and one of the firemen went into the drain and peered into the pipe. “I see him. He’s about halfway under the street.” All the coaxing, calling and the offer by the fireman to sing the Meow Mix jingle failed.
“Never had to get a cat out a storm drain before,” one of the firefighters said. But then he said he had an idea. We agreed a little water might force Zac out, so they took a hose from the truck, hooked it into the truck’s water supply and dropped it down the other storm drain.
The water was engaged and Zac came flying out as if he had been shot from a circus cannon. He raced home at warp speed.
But for us, this episode went beyond rescuing a cat from a storm drain. It was about four men who took the time and used their skills to avert what could have had a sad ending, especially on Memorial Day weekend when bad things just seem to happen.
Our heartfelt thanks to Officer Caldwell, who took the lead, and to the firemen, who acted with professionalism, patience and understanding.
My wife and I and Zac thank you. You all did your respective departments proud.