What’s that, Lassie? Fire chiefs spend £1m a year on pet rescues?

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Critics claim it is a waste of public money for fire crews to rescue trapped cats

SCOTS firefighters spent an astonishing £1m last year on hundreds of “absurdly wasteful” animal rescues, official figures have revealed.

The call-outs included a dog stuck in a wine rack, a snake trapped inside a coconut shell and a cat caught down the back of a couch.

Last night one outraged MSP demanded an end to “trivial” pet rescues and said cats stuck in trees should simply be “hosed out” by their owners.

Official figures show that Scotland’s eight fire brigades were called out to 368 animal rescues in the past 12 months.

Central Scotland revealed extraordinary details of the incidents, some of which involved more than a dozen crew and numerous fire engines.

The brigade scrambled five firefighters after a 999 call last October from a dog lover reporting that their pet was stuck in a wine rack.

Another team of five firefighters were dispatched in April this year to remove a bird from guttering. The following month, Central sent a crew to rescue 10 ducklings from a manhole.

The biggest case in Central involved  15 firefighters and three fire engines sent out in January this year to rescue a dog from an island.

Fife fire brigade also revealed amazing detail of its animal rescues.

The brigade sent four firefightes to an address in Rosyth last November where they spent an hour and 23 minutes rescuing a cat from a tree using a 40ft ladder.

The next day, the brigade used a thermal imaging camera to help rescue a dog from a storm drain.

Crews of four were used on numerous occasions to release pets in Fife, including “Seagull released from TV aerial” in Kirkcaldy, “Cat released from window” in North Queensferry and “Dog released from fence” in Crossford.

On May 11 this year, four Fife firefighters spent an hour freeing a cat from behind a fireplace in Kirkcaldy.

Elsewhere in Scotland, Tayside fire brigade admitted scrambling a crew to rescue a snake stuck in a coconut shell. The reptile was freed using a hacksaw. The brigade’s firefighters were also called in to provide lighting for “owl missing from park”.

Rescues by Highland and Islands brigade  included a cat trapped in recliner couch, a Grampian crew rescued a dog whose paw was trapped between stones, and Dumfries and Galloway helped a “dog stuck under a Portacabin”.

Lothian and Borders refused to give details of incidents but confirmed crews of up to six attended 35 animal rescues. Strathclyde also refused to give details  but said they carried out 182 animal rescues.

Highland and Islands estimated the cost of each rescue at £2,706, meaning the total cost of animal-related call outs last year was a staggering £995,808.

Last night an MSP called for an end to “trivial” rescues, saying that cats should simply be hosed out of trees.

Alex Johnstone, MSP for north-east Scotland, said Grampian’s seagull rescue was a “complete waste of resources”.

He said the public needed to think before calling out the fire brigade.

He said: “There’s a traditional way of getting a cat out of a tree without calling the fire brigade, you turn a hose on them.

“There are people who don’t know what the Fire and Rescue Service is for. People need to be more responsible when calling on public services.

“They can’t expect scarce and valuable resources to be devoted to trivial incidents.

“Some of the incidents listed would be better dealt with by the SSPCA.

“The real danger is that some time in the future the fire brigade is dealing with one of these incidents and lives are lost in a real incident because they can’t attend.”

The TaxPayers’ Alliance branded the rescues “absurdly wasteful”.

Matthew Sinclair, Director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “While fire services will sometimes be called on to retrieve animals who are stuck, they need to do all they can to keep the cost to a minimum.  At times we’ve seen these rescues get absurdly wasteful and that can’t be acceptable with so much pressure on taxpayers.”

Central Scotland Fire board, which is responsible for overseeing the activities of the Fire Service and monitoring performance, said they would be looking into the service they provide.

Board convener, councillor Alan Nimmo, said: “As the Central board of fire and rescue, we’d have serious concerns about this kind of spending on animal rescues.

“Something like a snake stuck in a coconut should be more of a concern for the RSPCA or an animal rescue organisation. It should not fall on the fire service to make these kind of rescues.

“We have the responsibility to scrutinise the spendings of the services, we will certainly be looking into these concerning figures.”

One of the most celebrated pet rescues in Scotland involved Fudgie the hamster. Three years ago, Fudgie escaped through a hole in the kitchen floor of his owner’s home in Dunbar, East Lothian. No fewer than eight firefighters were called out to search for Fudgie, using a chocolate covered camera to try to tempt him out. Fudgie voluntarily came out of hiding eight days later.

A spokeswoman for Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service said its policy was now to rescue nothing smaller than cats, dogs and farm livestock. She said: “We usually send an initial attendance of one pump to assist and also assess the situation and determine whether further resources are necessary.”

Head of Operations at Grampian Fire and Rescue, Area Commander Andy Coueslant (corr) said they did not rescue cats from trees or do anything that put firefighters at increased risk.

But he added: “There is an element of rescuing an animal that can avoid a member of the public putting themselves into a dangerous position.”

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