Perseverance paid off in one Lombard resident's quest to rescue a group of tiny ducklings trapped in a storm sewer.
Ginger Frey enlisted the help of neighbors, friends, a Lombard police community service officer, public works employees, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Willowbrook Wildlife Center and finally the Lombard Fire Department -- all in the name of saving four ducklings so small they fell between the grates of a storm sewer on a residential street just south of North Avenue.
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The ducklings apparently tumbled into a sewer pipe not far from Lombard Lagoon.
"It was so sad," Frey said. "They're so scared, it's getting cold at night, and they're really, really tiny."
The saga started May 16 when one duckling fell into the sewer and quickly was rescued by a community service officer. It continued four days later when three Lombard firefighters and Lt. Al Green removed the last of the ducklings and passed them along for rehabilitation at Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn.
But the final chapter came Wednesday when PETA announced it will honor the ducklings' heroes with the Compassionate Fire Department Award -- a framed certificate, a letter of appreciation and a box of vegan chocolates.
"There's no way a lay person would have been able to get the ducklings out," said Sarah Preston, a manager in PETA's cruelty investigations department. "It really would have been impossible without their help."
While the first duckling to fall down a sewer on Frey's street easily was rescued to rejoin its mother and seven others, things rapidly got more complicated.
Following their mother down the street, at least three other ducklings, and likely a fourth, also toppled into the sewer, Frey said. So rescue efforts began again.
The community service officer who rescued the first duckling had to respond to another call, but left her net with Frey and a few neighbors, who tried throughout the night to bring the ducklings to safety. When that failed, Frey called Lombard public works the following morning.
Although Frey said she heard the ducklings when she first went outside, they were nowhere to be seen or heard when a public works crew arrived. So in between caring for her nearly 3-month-old daughter, Frey kept checking on the trapped baby ducks and calling around for anyone who could help them.
She was told animal control doesn't handle such situations and eventually decided to email PETA, despite a message warning emails may not be answered for up to two weeks.
"Within 10 minutes of me sending this email, they were calling me," Frey said. "They gave me some ideas of what to do."
PETA alerted local authorities about the trapped ducklings last Friday night and contacted Willowbrook Wildlife Center, which sent someone to the scene. Still, the three ducklings remained trapped until a breakthrough Saturday night.
A baby-sitter came over, freeing Frey and her husband to try a new idea -- flushing water down one sewer drain and scaring one little duckling out another drain. Despite that success, two ducklings remained in the sewer, so extrication efforts continued Sunday.
"This was the fourth day the little ducks were trapped down there," Frey said.
With neighbors and friends gathered around, Lt. Green and three firefighters arrived Sunday evening.
"We had to flush some water down there and catch them in a net and bring them out," Green said about the two ducklings the fire department rescued, one of which was not in great shape at first. "The ducklings are smaller than the sewer grates and they just fall in and someone's got to help them."
He wouldn't call duckling rescues common, but said the fire department gets at least one such call a year.
"Birds in trees, iguanas in trees -- we've been called for pretty much anything up a tree," Green said. "We'll go out and we'll give any assistance we can in a safe manner."
This is the first time an animal rescue in Lombard has resulted in PETA recognition, he said.
Compassionate awards are given to fire departments, utility companies and other organizations a couple dozen times a year, PETA's Preston said. Other awards have gone to a California group for canceling a fireworks display to protect nesting seabirds and an electric company that rescued a cat stuck for 10 days in a tree, she said.
"Anyone can be a hero for animals," Preston said.
Frey, "a really big animal lover" with two mini dachshunds, said she's glad to hear the three ducklings are recovering and are expected to be released in four or five weeks. She couldn't let the ducklings stay trapped because "they deserved so much more."
"I'm ecstatic," she said about the eventual rescue. "I feel like I saved the whole world."