Grass Valley Fire strike team gets national recognition for pet rescue | TheUnion.com

Grass Valley Fire strike team gets national recognition for pet rescue

It sounds like the beginning of a joke: A cat and a chicken escape from a fire, huddling together in the doorway of a nearby residence.

But this quirky story is completely true — and has captured the hearts of many, bringing national media attention to some local firefighters.

The rescue of these unlikely compatriots, by a Grass Valley Fire department strike team on mop-up duty at the Carr Fire, quickly went viral earlier this month after the department posted an account on social media. The story eventually garnered national attention from media outlets including People and Time magazines and The Today Show.

This week, that strike team received a Compassionate Fire Department Award from People for the Ethical treatment of Animals, which Grass Valley Fire Chief Mark Buttron showed off during Tuesday's city council meeting.

"These vulnerable animals were spared a traumatic and potentially deadly ordeal, thanks to the kindness and quick thinking of these highly deserving awardees," PETA Senior Vice President Lisa Lange said in a press release. "PETA hopes their heroic actions will inspire people everywhere always to keep an eye out for and come to the aid of animals in need, especially during life-threatening natural disasters."

The saga began after Grass Valley firefighters assigned to OES Engine 334 as part of OES Strike Team 4806A left at 3 a.m., July 26, to the Carr Fire in Shasta, Buttron told the council members. That fire, which has burned 229,651 acres and killed eight people, still is not completely contained.

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On the second day of their deployment, the strike team was assigned to structure defense during a period of "significant fire activity" when they came across the cat and chicken, Buttron said.

"The animals had survived one of the most destructive fires in memory, finding comfort in each other in the doorway of a home," Buttron wrote in a Facebook post on Aug. 2 that racked up 269 shares.

The pair, which are not owned by the same people, had minor burns that required treatment, Buttron said. The strike team members found them a water dish and then tracked down a dog carrier to keep them safe until the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals could pick them up.

"They managed to coax the chicken into the carrier," Buttron said, adding that was quite an endeavor. The cat, which was more docile, followed suit. According to Buttron, the strike team went out of its way to keep checking on the pair until they were picked up and taken to the animal shelter.

Both the chicken and the cat, whose name proved to be Whiskers, were reunited with their owners, Buttron said.

After the heartwarming rescue became national news, PETA contacted Buttron about honoring the strike team. The award will be displayed in Grass Valley Fire Station 2, where most of the strike team is assigned.

"I just wonder if they will ever get to see each other again," mused council member Jan Arbuckle.

Mayor Howard Levine's reaction was simple.

"Aww," he said, before commenting, "I think a book's in the offing."

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-236 or by email at lizk@theunion.com.