Firefighter injured after cat decides it does not want to be rescued from tree
It is the most modest of calls to duty: a firefighter called to rescue a cat from a tree.
But one pedigree Abyssinian decided he did not want to be rescued.
In a dramatic twist – a Porirua firefighter was flown to hospital after a cat named Mordecai "took exception" to his rescue attempts, which happened sometime after 8.20am Sunday, in Lauderdale Rd, Papakowhai, north of Wellington.
The firefighter was knocked unconscious in the fall. The first thing he said when he awoke was "did we get the cat?" according to Porirua Senior Station Officer Owen Woodman.
But Joy Collins' one-year-old blue Abyssinian remains at large, last seen bolting from the scene after he and the firefighter fell from the tree.
Mordecai had first gone missing on Saturday afternoon.
Collins discovered him trapped in a giant macrocarpa tree in a plantation of mostly native bush running down the hill behind her property.
Her daughter Jane Weggery said she launched her own rescue mission to bring Mordecai home on Saturday night.
After 10pm, Weggery climbed the towering tree only to come up short just a few metres away from the pedigree blue.
A fire truck arrived about 9am Sunday, and firefighters beat through the thick undergrowth to the tree, and a single firefighter started climbing.
Collins said they realised something had gone wrong when they heard the sound of the man's fall.
Woodman said one of his firefighters had tried to coax "Morty" from the tree.
"He took exception, and unfortunately he's fallen some distance," Woodman said of his crewman.
Weggery said the tree was a "really gnarly one", and her climb had been difficult the night before, climbing with a torch in her mouth.
"One of the guys climbed up the tree, got the cat, but on the way down he slipped."
Both the cat and firefighter fell and Mordecai remains nowhere to be seen.
Woodman said another firefighter had gone with his injured crewman to hospital, where Porirua Station's team was sure their mate would recover.
"Obviously the medical people will take care [of him] and do their wizardry."
Weggery said she was not sure how badly injured the firefighter was after the fall.
However she said emergency services swarmed to the street quickly after the incident.
A Wellington Free Ambulance attended the scene, along with police, who earlier confirmed the injuries were "not life-threatening" and the Westpac Rescue Helicopter arrived to fly the firefighter to hospital.
They were forced to winch the injured firefighter out by helicopter because the bush area was on a very steep and slippery bank.
Life flight crewman Julian Burn said the rescue chopper's crew thought they were being pranked by their firefighting comrades when they took the call with the only information given – that a fireman had taken a fall.
"When you hear 'a fireman has fallen out of a tree' from ambo you think 'rescuing a cat'. What else would he have been doing up there?"
But that would have been "ridiculous", Burn thought.
"I can't say I've ever had to a job like that before in my life."
Burn said the firefighter was stabilised by a paramedic on the ground, then airlifted with a 120-foot-long winch over the tall trees, fully conscious by the time he was aboard being flown to hospital.
Weggery said the helicopter pilot did an incredible job keeping the aircraft steady in strong cross winds as the rescue took place only metres from the family's back deck, and they watched on.
The owner was very upset by the fall, Woodman said.
"I believe the owner was quite distressed about Morty, who unfortunately didn't want to be rescued,"
Firefighters get called out to all sorts of dangerous jobs. But sometimes it is the scrappy felines – not the house fires – that prove a professional hazard, Woodman said.
"Unfortunately it's not the first time I've seen a cat get stroppy – even when they're being rescued."
Collins owns two pedigree felines, Mordecai and Rigby – a golden Abyssinian. The cats are named after the main characters in TV cartoon The Regular Show.
By midday Sunday, Mordecai's fate was still unknown.
"We don't know," Weggery said. "He got such a fright. He [the fire fighter] dropped him. Someone tried to catch but he slipped at the same time."
On Sunday afternoon Collins would be heading out to try and encourage Mordecai to return home from the bush.
In the meantime Rigby was locked in a bedroom in the house, just in case he bolted too.
Weggery said the family were incredibly grateful for the efforts of all the emergency services that had attended the incident.
Fire Service region 3 manager Brendan Nally said the organisation's priority was the safety of its firefighters, saying they regularly carried out rescues from trees.
"This includes where the emotional wellbeing of members of the public is at risk. Such rescues are common for our people and resulting injuries are very rare. Our firefighters carry out a thorough risk assessment prior to attempted rescues, and that happened on this occasion."
The Fire Service would carry out an internal investigation of the incident, and had advised WorkSafe, Nally said.