A CHINCHILLA trapped up a chimney, a snake under the floorboards and a young cat stuck up a tree being attacked by crows – these are just some of the bizarre animal rescues that firefighters in Essex have attended.
The Gazette has learned that between April 2006 and April 20011, Essex County Fire and Rescue Service responded to 1,019 emergency calls about a variety of trapped animals.
The most common call-outs involved dogs, cats and horses but firefighters have also had to help free a number of more unusual creatures, including a stuck sea lion and a wedged water dragon.
In one case, a cow managed to get itself stuck in a pylon, while on another occasion, a horse took a tumble into a swimming pool and could not get out.
Then there was the rat snake which somehow ended up wedged between two panels on a Ford Transit and the mother duck who inexplicably led her ducklings on to a busy railway station platform.
Other rescues involved a pregnant labrador getting stuck under a barn, a kitten getting flushed down a toilet and a pigeon becoming caught in guttering.
The Gazette obtained details of these rescues from the fire service under the Freedom of Information Act.
Between 2006/07 and 2010/11, firefighters responded to an average of 204 animal-related calls each year.
For each of the first four years of our study, animal rescues represented fewer than one per cent of the total call-outs received.
In 2010/11, the figure was slightly higher, at 1.25 per cent.
Firefighters from across the county respond to these call-outs, although many are now dealt with by specially trained officers at South Woodham Ferrers, where the service's dedicated animal rescue vehicle is based.
This off-road vehicle is equipped with a crane capable of extending to 13.7m and lifting weights of up to 3,250kg, plus a number of pods containing all the necessary equipment to perform even the most difficult rescue.
They might not have access to this type of kit, but nonetheless, firefighters based at Brentwood fire station have also done their bit.
Between April 2006 and April 2011, officers based at the North Road station responded to 36 animal-related incidents.
Indeed, there have been others since, including one recent case in which a pony had fallen over in its stable.
Firefighter Justin Milne, 38, was among those who attended the incident.
Mr Milne, a member of White Watch who has been based at Brentwood fire station for the past seven years, told the Gazette: "I like animal rescues when the outcome is a good one, because people really care about their animals.
"It is always a good thing when it turns out all right."
Recalling the pony rescue, he said: "It was an elderly pony that had fallen over and couldn't get up.
"When we got there the animal was in distress and not breathing very well but we were able to get it up into the right position and feed it to give it energy.
"When it was on its feet it was OK, which made me feel really good.
"It was a nice way to end my shift."
His White Watch colleague Jamal Khan, 24, was also present at the pony rescue.
Mr Khan, who has been based at Brentwood for three years, said: "It is a good feeling when you get a result like that one. We are always happy to do as much as we can to help anybody, and animal rescues fall into that category."
A spokesman for the fire and rescue service said: "Although they make up only a tiny proportion of the thousands of incidents attended by fire crews, the service does carry out dozens of animal rescues a year.
"There is a public expectation that firefighters will carry out these rescues.
"Indeed, a recent survey carried out by Essex County Fire and Rescue Service found that 87 per cent of those who responded believed that crews should continue to rescue animals.
"Firefighters in Essex have received specialised training in rescuing animals which find themselves in difficulty.
"People are often extremely distressed by trapped animals and members of the public will often attempt a rescue and place themselves in danger in doing so.
"Obviously, a risk to human life takes priority with us but if we can spare the resources as a service then we will undertake to rescue animals.
"When we are called by the RSPCA to help rescue an animal we are happy to help and it seems that the public we serve are behind the service doing this."