By CHRIS BROOKE
Trapped: The cat is spotted at the base of the bridge by a concerned dog walker who calls the RSPCA
As soon as the call came in, the fire brigade’s finest purred into action.
The victim was trapped at the foot of a 30ft bridge, surrounded by a flood-swollen river and in danger of being swept away at any time.
Within minutes two fire engines, a specialist water unit and a senior fire officer had assembled on the bridge over the fast-flowing River Wear and were discussing their plan of action. And the object of the major rescue operation at Croxdale, County Durham? A small black-and-white cat which was eventually gathered up and taken to an animal shelter.
The episode will inevitably bring further accusations of overkill following the incident two weeks ago when 25 firemen were scrambled to help a seagull trapped in 3ft of water with its feet caught in a plastic bag.
Action stations: The RSPCA call the fire brigade which scrambles its specialist water unit who prepare to launch their river rescue
But at least this time the rescuers got their feet wet – unlike the seagull squad at Carshalton, Surrey, who refused to wade in for health and safety reasons, leaving it to a member of the public to save the stricken bird.
It was on Wednesday morning that 62-year-old Eddy Williamson was walking his dog across the bridge over the Wear and spotted what he thought was a plastic bag on its concrete base.
On a mission: The three specialist under water unit officers wade out to the stricken cat
Gotcha: The cat is gathered up as other officers watch on
In safe hands: The lucky feline is placed in a cage for the return journey to the river shore
‘Then I realised it was a cat,’ he said.
‘I don’t know how it got there, but I think somebody may have dropped it over the top.’
Mr Williamson rang the RSPCA, who called in the fire brigade.
By the time they arrived at the bridge, another member of the public had bravely waded across the river to reach the forlorn animal.
Clearly not trusting the have-a-go hero, the cat backed away and the firemen told the man to return to the river bank as they feared the creature might fall into the water. But what should they do next?
The officer in charge decided against lowering a fireman down by rope for fear of spooking the cat, so the river team waded into action, carrying a net and a cage with them.
Human chain: The firemen support each other as the cat is carried to the banks of the Rivet Wear, in Croxdale, in a basket
Mission accomplished: Back on dry land, the cat relax
‘They didn’t need the net as it all went smoothly and one of the men was able to pick up the cat and it was taken away safely,’ said station manager Steve Cummings of the Durham fire and rescue service.
‘I have no idea how it got there. It’s an absolute mystery to us. It didn’t seem to be injured and wasn’t soaking wet.’
Mr Cummings said animal rescue operations were regarded as good training so they were carried out whenever possible.
An RSPCA spokesman said the cat was in good health but efforts to trace its owner were being hampered because it was not microchipped.