Animal rescues cost UK fire services £3.5m

Cat on a wall More than 2400 cats were rescued in three years

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UK fire services spent at least £3.5m rescuing 17,000 animals in the last three years, a BBC investigation has found.

Firefighters got a cow out of a tree, removed a snail from a wall and reunited a duckling with its mother, Radio 4's You and Yours uncovered.

The Taxpayers Alliance questioned the use of resources.

But the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) said distressed animals could be dangerous.

Anton Phillips, animal rescue specialist at Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: "If we don't rescue that animal somebody else will or will try to, I've seen people have their arms trapped in drains trying to rescue ducklings and we've actually had to dig the road up to get the person out."

Information obtained using Freedom of Information requests showed some rescues were complex, like those involving large animals such as horses, stuck in ditches.

Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service rescued a cow stuck in a tree alongside a towpath, after its head became wedged in a hollow.

Services with highest bills

Fire service Cost

Northern Ireland

£813,485

Devon and Somerset

£561,912

East Sussex

£292,804

Lancashire

£281,000

Surrey

£278,332

Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service trains crews in difficult rescues like this.

But others were more trivial, with ducklings rescued from a drain, a pigeon released from a tree and a squirrel up a lamppost.

The most common animals that were rescued were cats, dogs, birds and horses, but other animals involved included snakes, seals, bats, chinchillas, iguanas, a raccoon, badgers and a chameleon.

Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service were called out to remove a snail stuck halfway up a wall after being contacted by a distressed elderly lady.

Jim Green, an animal rescue specialist said: "The cost attributed to sending a couple of blokes down the road to help the lady and to reassure her, that was merited, and the actual problem, the snail, might seem ridiculous but it was that lady that they were going to help."

Firefighters attended to...

Snail
  • More than 2400 cats, 2180 dogs, and 1700 horses
  • Two thousand and ninety birds, including 1244 seagulls and 159 pigeons, 57 swans and 12 parrots
  • Twenty-six foxes, 19 squirrels, seven ferrets and seven badgers
  • Ten hamsters, 15 snakes, 11 fish
  • Seven dolphins or marine mammals
  • Five seals, three bats, three chinchillas, two iguanas, one raccoon, one chameleon, one snail

Of the 56 fire services in the UK, 25 supplied figures detailing their total costs for rescuing animals.

Northern Ireland spent the most with £813,485, Devon and Somerset came second, spending £561,912.

Only four of the 56 UK fire services have charged for an animal rescue in the last three years.

In 2010 Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service charged a total of £2205 for four rescues.

One was for a bird rescued from a chimney, the second time it had happened in the same house.

Chief fire officer Paul Raymond said: "We told the occupier that they should really put a cover on the chimney to prevent a recurrence.

"Unfortunately the occupier didn't listen to our advice, and when we went for another bird down the same chimney we felt it appropriate the taxpayer shouldn't carry that cost."

The Chief Fire Officers Association said most UK Fire Services avoided charging because it could lead to more people attempting an animal rescue themselves.

Firefighters look at a wooden horse stuck in a ditch on an animal rescue level 3 course Firefighters must train to rescue large animals

Its president Peter Holland said: "If this should happen the financial cost of rescuing the animal and would-be rescuer may well be greater and may well have more serious implications."

The Taxpayers Alliance said it believed that the Fire Service should only be called out in true emergencies.

Emma Boon from the Taxpayers Alliance said: "We've heard stories about cats being rescued from being stuck up a tree or a cat being stuck on a roof.

Ten services with most rescues

Fire service Animals rescued

London

1623

Hampshire

816

Manchester

693

Devon and Somerset

679

Kent

670

Essex

620

West Midlands

608

Surrey

561

West Yorkshire

559

North Yorkshire

526

"Now unless you're talking about a very tall building you only need a ladder to get onto a roof. I don't think that people should be calling for the fire brigade by default."

But animal rescue specialist Mr Green said he believed the RSPCA was usually the first point of call.

He said: "They go to thousands of jobs every year. The number we go to is minimal and we generally only go to those jobs when the RSPCA can't resolve it and they've asked us to come in."

He said it was an important and useful part of the job, and that the public relied on the Fire and Rescue Service to help whenever they were in trouble.

"We are in financial difficulties at the moment around the country, but I would hate to think that the reputation of the Fire Service would be tarnished by people not believing that when the chips are down we wouldn't come round the corner to help them out."

Hear the full report on You and Yours on Friday 27 May at 1200 BST.

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