Middleton Fire Captain John Filler heard someone calling for help inside the burning house as he did a quick walk-around.
“He’s like, ‘Yeah, we need to go into rescue mode.’ He announced it over the radio,” recalled Matt Pidjeon, who at the time was pulling a hose line to the front door. “We do an upgrade to a second alarm. We’re thinking that we’ve got a rescue.”
The April 15 rescue was like so many others, until the firefighters were able to see the victims. The screams of “fire” and “help” came from parrots, not people.
She was yelling, just like you and I would.
Victor Islas, spokesman for Middleton Rural Fire District, on a parrot in a burning house
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It catapulted the small Idaho fire department into international news. The world was captivated by the story — and the photos and video of the firefighters using an oxygen mask to perk up the birds.
This was Middleton Fire’s 15 minutes of fame. The department won accolades and awards, including the Compassionate Fire Department Award from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The group sent vegan cookies, too.
Victor Islas, community relations officer for the department, fielded interview requests from all over the world.
“We made it all the way across to the UK, Japan, Australia, HLN, a talk show out of Chicago,” he said, noting that most of the interviews were on the phone. He did a Skype interview with the Huffington Post. The story was also featured on Firehouse.com and BirdChannel.com.
In fact, the rescue was No. 2 on BirdChannel.com’s list of Top 10 news stories of 2015. The impressive list included a story about a man in England who had his ears removed to look like a parrot and another out of of India about a woman who took her stepson’s parrot to a police station because it was “hurling obscenities” at her.
“You deserve all the birdie awards,” the list says of the Middleton Rural Fire District.
What was the No. 1 bird story? An Australian couple recovered their cockatiel seven months after it flew out the door, thanks to a woman who found the emaciated bird, nursed it back to health and posted its photo on a pet lost-and-found website.
RESCUE IN DETAIL
Pidjeon said the Middleton fire was reported by a passer-by, and the man was there when firefighters arrived at the house along Idaho 44 near Duff Road.
No one was home at the time. The family was at a movie that night, Islas said.
After the captain did the “360 walk-around” and determined that someone was inside, firefighters used a flathead ax and Halligan bar as part of a forced entry through the front door.
Pidjeon said that when he entered the house, he heard the voices. Firefighters would yell out “fire department,” and then ask those trapped in the house to respond.
“It honestly sounded like an elderly lady calling out,” he said. “All we were hearing was ‘fire’ and ‘help.’ ”
That’s the sort of thing that gets a firefighter’s heart racing. The fire was in a back bedroom, and it was burning through the door, Pidjeon said. There was light smoke in the rest of the house.
Pidjeon, who was lead nozzleman, said he and another hoseman attacked the fire in the room. They were able to contain it to that room. The captain, who was carrying a thermal imager, moved toward the kitchen, where the calls for help seemed to be originating.
The female bird was found sitting on the back of a chair in the kitchen, Islas said. The male, who was quiet, wasn’t found until a second search of house. He was sitting in an open cage.
Firefighters from other local agencies were on scene to assist. A couple of the firefighters who arrived from Star were concerned that human victims had been missed, so they also searched the house, Pidjeon said.
“They literally were like, ‘Why haven’t you found these people yet?’ ” he said.
The fire department has a special set of oxygen masks for cats and dogs. The female bird seemed slow to respond, so they gave her a dose of oxygen with one of those masks, Islas said.
Islas didn’t hold either of the rescued birds.
“I didn’t have my gloves on. I didn’t want to get bit,” he said. “You never know. It’s a bird.”
WHAT HAPPENED TO BIRDS?
Islas said someone from Time magazine called this fall to do an update on the Idaho parrots, but they opted not to when they heard what befell the birds after the fire.
A few months after the fire, Islas said he was notified that both birds had died. The female reportedly suffered pregnancy complications that led to her death, Islas said.
“The male died due to a broken heart,” he said. Islas said the family does not wish to speak to the media.
The cause of the fire was undetermined after an investigation.
Pidjeon said he won’t soon forget the bird rescue — nor will his family and others. They’ve been called “The Parrotheads,” a nickname owned by Jimmy Buffett fans until now.
His dad gave him a historic fire engine calendar for Christmas, and he tagged it “from your parrot friends.”