CLEARWATER — Jessica Sargent was strolling through Glen Oaks Park on Monday when she heard the cheeping.
She followed it to a storm drain, near Court Street and S Hillcrest Avenue, where six brown and yellow ducklings were trapped inside.
"The duck was standing there squawking and the babies were just throwing a fit," said Sargent, 45, who works at a nearby accounting firm. "The holes were big enough for them to fall through, but too small for you to reach inside."
She called Clearwater Fire Station 45 at 12:30 p.m. and, within minutes, four firefighters arrived with crowbars.
A crowd gathered as Lt. Stephen Coward, Thomas Knobl, Steven Peters and David Sowers pried off the steel grating to rescue the ducklings.
"They were all so cute," Coward, 46, said. "You could tell they really wanted mom."
The firefighters grabbed three of the ducklings and placed them in a bird cage provided by an onlooker, who happened to keep one in the back of his SUV.
"I won't sleep until you get them all," Sargent said, watching.
Coward crouched inside the 2-foot-deep drain to catch the other three, who'd wandered deeper underground. Luckily, he said, it was dry.
"When we got them out, everyone was overjoyed. People clapped," he said.
Coward, who has worked as a Clearwater firefighter for 17 years, said the firehouse annually receives "a handful" of distressed animal calls. He has helped save kittens from pipes, domestic cockatiels from trees.
"The secretary who got the call yesterday asked us, 'Do you guys want to go be heroes today?' " he said.
After the 20-minute rescue, the ducklings reunited with mom and waddled into the park.
Danielle Paquette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4224.