SOUTH JORDAN, Utah (ABC4) – The stereotype goes that much of a firefighter’s workday consists of retrieving kittens out of tree branches on their ladders.
For the South Jordan Fire Department, animal rescue is a big part of the job – the difference is that their retrievals are usually subterranean and waterfowl related. In layman’s terms, the firefighters in South Jordan have become experts in fishing baby ducklings out of storm drains.
It happens a lot more than you’d think.
“Maybe every other day, like three or four times a week, we’re out responding to duck rescues,” South Jordan Fire Department Battalion Chief Michael Richards tells ABC4. “Sometimes multiple times a day.”
The way the baby ducklings get stuck in the storm drains is simple. A family of ducks, led by the mother, crosses the road (this isn’t a chicken crossing the road joke), and when they reach a drain, the babies fall in because the holes are so large compared to their tiny bodies. Often, the mother duck will honk and cause a ruckus, helpless to save her ducklings.
When a concerned citizen calls the fire department’s non-emergency line to notify them of the situation, Richards and his crew jump into action. This isn’t new to the firefighters, Richards says that duck rescue in the spring season has been a part of his entire 15-year career with the department. They’ve done it so much they’ve even built a specialized tool, a net on a long pole, to aid in their recovery of the tiny birds.
It may seem silly that firefighters are going through such efforts to save these animals, but the rationale is rooted in keeping humans safe as well. The storm drain covers can be extremely heavy and hard to maneuver, which poses a risk to get the cover out of the way, but also in returning it to its original position. A misplaced storm drain cover can pose a danger on the roads and sidewalks. Also, the fire department does not want citizens climbing down in the confined space storm drain to save the ducklings, due to the risk of being trapped and becoming a victim of poor oxygen inhalation.
Still, it can be a funny notion. Mike Montgomery, a six-year firefighting veteran chuckles when asked if it’s something he thought he would be doing on the job but says he’s learned it’s a vital aspect of serving the community.
“We want to keep citizens safe from hurting themselves trying to help the ducks,” Montgomery says. “So we’re happy to come out and do it as long as we help out in any way.”
What can be satisfying for the duck rescuers can be the appreciation they feel from the mother duck if she settles down and understands what they’re doing to help.
“It’s kind of interesting because sometimes the mother does start to attack you because she’s concerned that you’re doing something to her babies. And then other times she just sits there and watches like it almost seems like she knows you’re helping,” Richards says. “So, it’s kind of a mix, the ducklings seem to run away, you know, they’re just scared so they’re trying to get away from you trying to get them. But once they’re all out, they usually just walk off altogether.”
Reminder: If you see an animal trapped in a storm drain, call your local fire department’s non-emergency number and let them know. Do not lift the storm drain cover or enter the storm drain to rescue the animal yourself.