Cat on the Roof


Cartoonists often depicted firefighters rescuing damsels in flimsy nighties and other such deeds of daring do. The truth however is often far from such whimsical even if desirable fancies. Some incidents I however experienced beggar belief in terms of outright hilarity and which would do any sitcom writer proud.

One such incident was a call to a cat on the roof of a terraced house in Plaistow. Despite popular belief once again engendered by the cartoonists, firefighter do not normally respond of cats on roofs or stuck in trees, that is the job of the RSPCA. Members of the public making such calls are normally referred to the RSPCA by a Control Officer with the fire service only responding if in the opinion of an RSPCA on site that the fire service would be of assistance. Normally animals like cats will get themselves down when they get hungry enough but other creatures like horses or cows stuck in mud often require a helping hand. In  this particular case we were advised by the RSPCA that a cat had been sitting on the apex of the roof of a terraced house for days and despite the enticements from both himself and an elderly widow who owned the cat, this particular intransigent moggie refused to move.  Normally, continual extensive training enables firefighters to immediately spring into action at the arrival of an incident without hesitation, however there is no real training that can be given for dealing with obstinate animals.

Clearly it required a plan of action to thought out. If the RSPCA officer had not been present, it is likely a quick burst from a jet of water would rapidly resolve the situation, however a much longer but more thoughtful scheme was thought out. Two ladders were pitched to either end of the terraced house on which a colleague and I climbed to either end of the roof. In London, the dividing party-wall between the houses of a terrace continue above roof level and prove a useful handhold for getting to the apex of the roof. After negotiating around chimney stacks at either end of the roof, my colleague and I sat astride the roof apex at opposite ends. This was not a comfortable position due to the angle and pitch of the roof. Although we could have used a roof ladder, it is likely this would have scared the cat who might well run onto the roof of a different house thereby complicating matters. Not scaring the cat was also the reason we were sitting astride the roof with fire helmets removed.

Slowly the two of us, such brave persons that we were, inched our way towards the cat issuing such words of reassurance as “Good Pussy” and the like. The errant feline just looked at us enigmatically and probably wondered what these two strange clowns were doing on her roof. Eventually the both of us were close enough to reach the cat however, any sudden move to grab the feline was likely to prove disastrous so we decide to coax the animal into our arms with kind soothing words instead. It was at this point we were distracted by a noise only to see a skylight set into the rear roof being pushed upwards on its hinges by the end of a broomstick wielded by the elderly widow in the room below. That was immediately followed by the high-pitched voice of the widow calling “Here Puss, puss, puss”. With that the cat made a sudden dash for the skylight leaving us with the sight of the cat’s tail rapidly disappearing into the room below.

It took a few moments before it dawned on us that to the passing public below, all they could see was two firefighters sitting astride the apex of a roof in a strange posture, each facing and within close proximity to each other with no cat present to act as a self explanation for either our presence or peculiar position. I expect passers-by must have though we were about to undertake some dark satanic ritual like a roof dancing ceremony. My colleague and I could not help but start to laugh at the absurdity or our position, so much so, it took several minutes before we even dared to start making our way back down for fear of having an accident due to our raucous laughter.

Even now whenever I hear someone calling their cat, my mind always recalls the voice of the frail elderly widow calling “Here, Puss, puss, puss”.

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