Only this time, the firefighters weren’t going to save a trapped person. The caller, a bicyclist commuting to work, had spotted a distressed young raccoon stuck in an unfortunate position: It was firmly wedged in a sewer grate, its head poking out from one of the small square holes.
But what rescuers thought would be quickly solved with liberal applications of soap and water, a method Fricke said works “99 percent of the time,” turned into a nearly two-hour-long saga that at one point involved at least eight people working to free the furry critter.
“It was quite the operation,” the fire department tweeted.
By the time the firefighters reached the raccoon Thursday morning, the animal had already been “stuck for a while,” the department tweeted. Photos showed the helpless raccoon gazing up from the grate, its little paws gripping the metal covering for support.
Once the raccoon was lathered up with soap and water, firefighters tried to slide it free with a bit of gentle tugging. The frantic animal, now covered in suds and slightly disheveled, barely budged.
“I think a lot of them were surprised it just sort of didn’t pop right out,” Fricke said.
Still, they didn’t give up. At some point, the entire grate was removed from the road and repositioned on a nearby patch of grass. When an ambulance that had been in the area stopped at the scene, Fricke said the firefighters got creative. They drew inspiration from a technique used to remove stuck rings from fingers — which involves tightly wrapping dental floss or fishing line around the swollen digit to compress it — and tried swaddling the raccoon in medical dressing, he said. That didn’t work either.
“Those guys, try as they might, didn’t really have the tools to free the raccoon,” Fricke said.
Reinforcements were required.
Animal control from the neighboring town of Waltham, Mass., about three miles north of Newton, was called and the officer arrived along with a veterinarian, Fricke said.
“The raccoon ended up needing to be sedated so that it could relax enough,” he said. “It was fighting the whole process.”
When the raccoon stopped struggling, rescuers were finally able to free it. Fricke said Waltham Animal Control is keeping the raccoon for observation and will release it back into the wild after the sedation wears off and it’s determined to be healthy.
“Everybody’s just happy that there was a positive outcome and they were able to get him out,” he said. “Hopefully, he will recover and be off and live his life.”
The raccoon’s uncomfortable predicament was “a first” for Fricke, who has been with the Newton Fire Department for about 15 years. But in recent years, there have been several reported incidents of the masked critters getting themselves into similar situations nationwide. Raccoons, which are known for eating just about anything, sometimes go into sewers in search of food.
In 2016, it took animal control in Northampton, Mass., about 100 miles west of Newton, roughly a half-hour to free a raccoon using cooking grease, UPI reported. A year later, a particularly hefty raccoon that had probably been “eating a little too well” also needed rescuing from a sewer grate, said police in Zion, Ill. Last year, a trapped raccoon in Dover, Ohio, was able to free itself after police lifted a grate from the ground, the Akron Beacon Journal reported.
Raccoons might not be getting stuck in sewer grates every day in Newton, but Fricke said the fire department has gotten its share of odd calls about animals in need of help. He said firefighters recently rescued a group of baby turkeys that had wandered over a storm drain and fell in.
“When people don’t know who else to call or what to do, they do tend to call the fire department,” he said. “It’s not unusual that we get calls that are sort of out of the ordinary.”