• Quick thinking: Thanks to a kind pool professional, a ground squirrel survives drowning.
    Quick thinking: Thanks to a kind pool professional, a ground squirrel survives drowning.

Little did Rick Gruber know as he headed out to install a pool heater that it would be a day like no other.

After arriving at the home, he heard splashing in the pool. Looking through the locked fence, he saw a ground squirrel desperately trying to keep its head above water. It only took a few moments for Gruber to reach the pool, but he found the animal floating motionless, its head submerged.

The Phoenix pool professional pulled the squirrel onto the deck and began chest compressions on the tiny body using two fingers. Then he changed tactics, draping the squirrel over a PVC pipe he had, its head pointed down to encourage expulsion of water from its lungs. Gruber began pressing on its sides.

“I thought, ‘He’s not going to make it,’ but I did it anyway,” Gruber said. After about three minutes, the squirrel twitched and spit up water. Gruber kept pressing its sides until it began breathing. Then he placed the unconscious animal inside a soft knee pad. After an hour the squirrel revived and darted back into the desert.

Gruber put the video of the rescue on YouTube and it went viral, with more than 826,000 views to date.

People have called to thank him — one was even in tears. Facebook users in South America, Belgium, Denmark and Germany commended him. Even country music star Brad Paisley tweeted about it.

What does Gruber make of all this? He said he’d try to save any creature, so it’s not surprising to learn he rescued his own dog. “I found Scarlett, a coyote-collie mix, in the desert while paintballing with my son,” he said. “We rescued 13 puppies, kept two and found homes for the rest.”

Prior to his career in the industry, Gruber was a bartender at several upscale hotels. Then a builder friend, Steve O’Hanlon, said, “You’re mechanically inclined and good with people. You should get into the pool business.”

He took Gruber around, showing him the ropes. “I call him my sensei,” Gruber said with a laugh.

After working at a few pool companies, Gruber started Rick’s Pool Repairs in 1999.