WALKER, Mich. -  It took more than an hour of prying and cajoling, but rescuers from the Walker Fire Department were able to free six ducklings from a storm drain at a busy shopping center Friday afternoon.

"What a great gift for Mother's Day weekend,'' a jubilant Sarah Christopher said after the ducklings were reunited with their mother. "You couldn't script it any better.''

An otherwise routine Friday quickly went afoul when the mother duck - with 11 ducklings in tow, took a detour through the shopping center parking lot off of Alpine Avenue NW.

Christopher, accompanied by her four-year-old son Mikey, were heading to a nearby shoe store when they heard "squawking and splashing'' in the parking lot.

"There was a storm grate and down in there were six little babies floating around,'' she said. "They fell through and mama was getting all upset.''

It tugged at the Sparta woman's heartstrings.

"You can't let them be in there alone without their mom - not on Mother's Day weekend,'' Christopher said.

She summoned help. The call was answered by Walker Fire Department.

The rescue team, led by Lt. Dean England, quickly got to work. 

England, along with firefighters Jeff DeYoung and Brad Heinrich, used a variety of tools, including chisels, screwdrivers, a sledgehammer and hydraulics to free the stubborn storm drain cover.

"We've got too much time invested to stop now,'' a determined England said as the trio worked diligently to remove the heavy metal grate that separated the ducklings from freedom. It was their first duckling rescue of the season.  

"Are they gonna be OK?''  Mikey Christopher wondered aloud as a crowd of onlookers flocked nearby.

"Absolutely,'' DeYoung assured the lad, who was appointed keeper of the rescue net until the storm grate was removed.

After a prolonged struggle, the stubborn lid popped off, and the firefighters dipped the small net into the murky abyss.

"They're in a group; we can try to scoop them up all at once,''  England said. 

With acumen and agility, the trio netted the ducks in short order, placing them into a waiting cardboard box Christopher happened to have in her trunk.

"Great job, guys,'' an onlooker from the small, but enthusiastic crowd told firefighters.

The mother mallard and five of her brood waited out the rescue at a nearby apartment complex pond. Christopher and her son carried the six rescued ducklings to the pond and watched the reunion unfold.

"It was heart-warming,'' she said. "You can't beat this for Mother's Day weekend.''

For England and his crew, it's all part of the job.

"You have to be prepared for anything, and fortunately, we were,'' he said. "A story with a happy ending.''

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