THIEVES have been blasted for stealing a 4×4 emergency truck from outside the home of an on-call fire chief before ditching the vehicle a few miles away and setting it ablaze.
Because of the snow and ice it means the commanding officer using it has been forced off duty while desperate repairs are carried out.
And with yet more severe winter weather set to strike next week it has left Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service facing a race against time to get the senior officer mobile again.
One insider said: “Whoever did this is not just an idiot, they are putting lives at risk.
“The fire brigade only bought these vehicles because of the problems with weather last year.
“It means senior officers have a fighting chance of getting the to the scene of a serious incident when before they were using their own cars which just might not have made it through.
“Now there’s a vehicle off the road, a senior officer unable to go anywhere until are placement is found and a repair bill which will run into thousands.
“It’s a despicable act.”
Colleagues at Lothian and Borders Police are said to have even deployed dog handlers in a determined bid to track down the thieves.
They struck on Friday night at the home of the duty on call commander in Penicuik, Midlothian, while he slept upstairs.
He discovered the £20,000 plus red coloured Toyota Hilux – which was emblazoned with Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service livery – missing when he left for work around 8am on Saturday morning.
Concern was fuelled further because it was laden with fire crew kit and a service radio which was immediately pulled offline.
A service mobile phone was also thought stolen.
Police were alerted but in a remarkable twist of fate, it was another fire officer who spotted the vehicle crashed in a ditch on the A1 near Oaktree junction near Haddington some 24 miles away.
He called his control to be told the vehicle had been stolen and when investigating further, discovered it had been trashed.
Local police from Haddington attended the scene and began a forensic examination of the truck which had been set alight and badly damaged.
Police dog teams are also understood to have been brought in to track the getaway route of the thieves in case they were local to the area.
Head of Operations at Lothian and Borders Fire Brigade, John Dickie, condemned the theft of the 4X4 vehicle.
He said: “In the last two weeks our 4×4 vehicles have been invaluable.
“They ensure that our command team, working on-call duties can get to serious incidents at any time of the day or night, safely and without delay from the challenging weather conditions.
“It’s incredible that someone would have the audacity to steal an operational fire and rescue service vehicle.
“In doing so they have compromised our operational capability and we have had to make alternative arrangements for cover.
“Fortunately the vehicle has now been recovered but it has been fire damaged and will be off the road until we can assess the full scale of the damage and the cost of repairs.
“It is frightening to think that someone was driving on public roads in an emergency vehicle. The potential risk to other road users can not be underestimated.
“If anyone has information about the culprits we would urge them to contact the police.”