Fairfield firefighter, Matt Striebe a cat saving hero

Photo of Justin Papp

FAIRFIELD — Geri Katz and her family only moved from Trumbull to their Winnepoge Road home in November.

By the mid-December, they hadn’t met their neighbors yet and had just begun adjusting to their new lives and new town.

Which is why, on the cold, rainy morning just after dawn on Dec. 20, Katz worried as she ran through her neighbors’ yard, yelling the name, ‘Jimmy,’ of her family’s beloved, and recently escaped, orange tabby cat.

“I thought, ‘our neighbors are going to hate us!’” Katz remembered, weeks after the ordeal.

Jimmy had come to the Katz’s while they were still living in Trumbull, about a year-and-a-half prior to his recent escape. Katz recalled the moment when Jimmy sauntered down the family’s driveway, hamburger patty clasped tightly in his jaw. The decision to take the cat in was not difficult.

“He just picked us,” Katz said.

Since then, Katz and Jimmy have had a routine, wherein Jimmy is allowed out at night to roam the neighborhood and hunt — Katz said Jimmy did his part in mitigating Trumbull’s squirrel population before the move — and returns in the morning.

“Usually around 6 a.m. I’ll let him in, I’ll hear him at the door. But this particular morning,” Katz said, referring to Dec. 20, “it was 6 or 6:30 a.m. and nothing. I went to the back door, then the front door calling his name. Nothing.”

Eventually, Katz’s calls were returned by a faint, plaintive meow, and Katz set out on her damp, early morning search concerned that Jimmy might be injured.

“I went into the backyard following the meow. Two houses away from ours I realized the sound was coming from above me. We’ve got these 40-foot pine trees, and he was up there and didn’t know how to get down,” Katz said.

Not sure how else to get Jimmy safely down, Katz called the fire department.

According to firefighter Matt Striebe, who’s been with the Jennings Road House Station for nearly five years and was one of three to respond to the call, Fairfield Fire gets a “handful” of cat-stuck-in-tree calls a year. He guessed this was his third such call in his five years with the department.

When Striebe arrived with fellow firefighters Jason Salvato and Jeff Denitto, it was decided quickly, because he was most junior, that Streibe would climb the department’s 40-foot extension ladder and retrieve Jimmy.

“It was pretty cold and rainy. And this one was pretty high up in the tree,” Striebe said.

At this point, Katz had left for work, but her husband and son were present as Streibe ascended the ladder and approached Jimmy, who was at first nervous of the strange man but ultimately allowed Striebe to handle him.

“I think the cat knew it got itself into a bad situation, so it was looking to get down. I tried to hold it close to my chest and it actually made its way onto my shoulder,” Striebe said.

It was in that configuration that Jimmy made his descent. After the ordeal, Katz said, Jimmy at first stayed close to the house but has by now returned fully to form.

“I was so appreciative of the fire department because not every town will still do that. I thought it was really special that Fairfield would,” Katz said. She and her son found out when Striebe, Salvato and Denitto were working next and brought them donuts and coffee as a thank you.

“We’ve got to do that kind of thing. We don’t want a homeowner setting up a ladder and then it becomes an EMS call,” Striebe said, somewhat resignedly, before adding that the story was fodder for many jokes at his expense in the firehouse.

justin.papp@scni.com; @justinjpapp1