Danville Fire Department Organizes an Unusual Rescue

Cpt. Jason Curtis of the Danville Fire Department Station 7 rescues an owl tangled in a discarded fishing line. Contributed photo.

By Amie Knowles

November 6, 2020

One local fire department had a “hoot” of a rescue.

DANVILLE – Cpt. Jason Curtis signed in at the Danville Fire Department Station 7 on Tuesday morning as usual. It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary for the 25-year veteran of the force. Just after noon, all of that changed.

Around 12 p.m., the city’s dispatch center received a call from a concerned citizen. Walking along Danville’s River Walk Trail by the Dan River, the caller told the dispatcher about an animal in trouble.

They came across an owl on their walk, but not one perching on a limb. It hung below a branch. Seemingly suspended upside down in midair, the bird hung by a barely visible discarded fishing line.

First, Animal Control arrived at the scene. The officer quickly realized she’d need further assistance. That’s when Station 7 came to mind. She called the team and they rushed to the rescue.

When duty calls

Curtis expressed that over two-and-a-half decades with the fire department, he’d never once received specific training for an owl rescue. However, that didn’t stop him from approaching the scene.

“Duty called and we answered,” Curtis said. “So it’s just one of them things.”

First, the crew threw a rope on a limb. They tried to pull the limb with the owl on it closer to shore, but the method didn’t work. The limb wouldn’t give as much as the crew hoped, jutting so far out over the Dan River.

“The owl was probably about 25-foot out on a limb, hanging by some fishing line, and it was over the water,” Curtis said.

That’s when some parks and recreation workers joined the rescue effort. They offered Curtis a long poll with an attached net on one end.

The captain suited up for a water rescue.

“We got our water rescue gear on, you know, a life vest,” Curtis said. “Any time we’re close to water, we have to wear that.”

Before entering the river, Curtis attempted to reach the owl with the long pole and net from the bank.

 “And as usual, about a foot short,” Curtis said.

A river rescue

That meant he’d have to rescue the owl by going into the Dan. He equipped himself with a pole used for firefighting and the pole with the net and waded into the water.

As the captain approached the bird, the owl didn’t give him any trouble.

“I think he was just wore out. He would just flop a little bit. He was aware that we were there, but he would just flop and try to fly a little bit. But he was tired, so he didn’t do much,” Curtis said. “I suspect he’d been doing it for a while and was just tired.”

Using the firefighting pole tool, Curtis made contact with the line.

“I was able to get the fishing line above it, the owl itself, and pull it closer,” Curtis said. “And once we got close enough with that pole with the net to reach it, he kind of got on the net with his feet, so he could relax. It was like he was perched on a limb, which took some pressure off of the owl.”

The shift from suspension to standing upright visibly relieved the creature.

“Like I said, once we got that net, he sat right on it,” Curtis said. “I mean, he sat right on it, like he didn’t try to fly away.”

Getting back on land

With the owl in tow, Curtis made his way back toward the bank. Before he climbed on shore, he and the owl took a break on a fallen tree in the river. Curtis used the opportunity to break the fishing line.

Once the two arrived safely on shore, Curtis distracted the owl so the officer could safely handle the wild animal.

“I just tried to keep his attention with the pole, trying to get him watching that, until she could get a blanket around him,” Curtis said.

That’s the last Curtis saw of the owl.

“Once we got him out, we just cleaned up and drove back,” Curtis said.

The animal control officer took the owl to a veterinarian, where it received a check up. Later, the owl relocated to a wildlife center in Roanoke.

A lesson in the making

From the concerned citizen calling about the bird to a valiant rescue effort by three separate departments, several things came together in the owl’s favor.

However, one person’s negligence could’ve easily cost the wild creature its life on Tuesday. That’s the person that didn’t properly dispose of their fishing line.  

“It’s probably one of them things that got hung up in a tree,” Curtis said. “You know, where somebody was fishing and it got hung up in a tree.”

A fisherman likely miscast his or her line. The line likely stuck to a tree branch, and he or she had to break the line. Being 25 feet out over the water, it’s not necessarily feasible that they could’ve retrieved the dangling line. However, leaving it there without alerting someone with the proper resources to remove it caused an issue.

“I’m speculating here, but it’s just a piece of line hanging or something and he flew into it,” Curtis said. “It’s always, if possible, clean up your mess. If you lose something, try to get it – especially around the river and stuff.”

The owl rescue on the Dan isn’t a day on the job Curtis will forget any time soon.

“It was definitely one of my most unusual calls in my career,” Curtis said.

Amie Knowles reports for The Dogwood. She can be reached at [email protected]

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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