Ex-Paratrooper Locked in Chicken Coop by Toddler Forced to Call For Help

An Ohio dad was forced to call first responders after he found himself locked inside a chicken coop.

Eight hens live in the chicken coop outside Michael Scalise's home in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Although Scalise is not particularly interested in the chickens, they are beloved by his wife and 3-year-old son, Sam, so he volunteered to take care of them when his wife left town on business.

But while helping the hens back into their coop on September 20, he left the keys in the door. His toddler turned the keys and pulled them out.

"I was locked inside," Scalise told Newsweek. "I tried to get him to put the keys in the lock and he wasn't able to do it."

Chicken Coop
Above, a chicken inside a chicken coop in San Ramon, California, on November 20, 2020. An Ohio dad was forced to call first responders after he found himself locked in a chicken coop. Smith Collection/Gado / Contributor/Archive Photos

The dad, who is a former U.S. Army paratrooper and medic with the 82nd Airborne, said it was feasible for him to break out—but he didn't want to ruffle a certain someone's feathers.

"If I needed to, I felt like I could probably kick the mesh chicken wire," he said. "But I also didn't want to get in trouble. This is one of my wife's favorite things—it's her current hobby. My primary concern with anything involving the chickens was just not to get in trouble."

Instead, he called the Shaker Heights Fire Department's non-emergency number.

In an audio recording of the call, Scalise said, "I have a non-emergency request. I am locked in my chicken coop by my 3-year-old son. My 3-year-old son locked me in my chicken coop. He has the key, but he can't get it into the door lock."

Toddler locks Dad in Chicken Coop
Here, 3-year-old Sam Scalise unsuccessfully attempting to unlock the chicken coop after locking his father inside. Firefighters arrived later and helped the father out of the chicken coop. Michael Scalise

Firefighters arrived within 10 minutes and quickly rescued Scalise. But before the case was closed, Lieutenant Joseph Sepesy had fun with puns in his incident report.

"[Personnel] proceeded lights and siren because [Scalise's] toddler was the one who locked him in the coop and was free as a bird in the yard," said Sepesy's report. "[Scalise] was trapped like a jailbird. [Personnel] secured keys and unlocked door. Resident was then able to successfully fly the coop."

The Shrinking Number of Volunteer Firefighters

Staffing shortages at fire departments nationwide have left communities more vulnerable to fires and other emergencies, from predicaments like Scalise's to far more serious crises. The departments depend heavily on volunteers, who make up 67 percent of U.S. firefighters, according to the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC)—and the number of volunteers is shrinking.

The population of volunteer firefighters reached a low in 2019, despite call volume more than tripling over the past three decades as emergency medical calls have increased and climate change has turned record-breaking wildfires into a regular occurrence.

Shifting family dynamics and work responsibilities have played a role in the decline of volunteer firefighters, according to a group of Pennsylvania fire chiefs who spoke to the Observer–Reporter. More people commute to work than in years past, making them feel less connected to their community and eating into their available time. The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated staffing shortages, as large numbers of workers were infected with the virus. Others lost their jobs after refusing to comply with vaccine mandates.

Updated 09/30/2022, 11:22 a.m. ET: This story has been updated with comments from Michael Scalise and additional information.