Cat rescue defended

Norfolk fire service and the RSPCA have defended a cat rescue costing hundreds of pounds of public money which has attracted a barrage of criticism.

And a fire chief has warned that such rescues could be axed in future as the service strives to find �1.5m of savings.

Sunday morning's incident in North Walsham involved three engines and lasted almost two hours, with costs of about �300 per hour each time an engine is sent on a job.

The North Walsham crew was first on the scene but was unable to reach the cat and so two further engines were sent from Yarmouth, one bearing an aerial ladder platform. They each made a 50-mile round trip to the tree, in the town's Arnold Pitcher Close.

It was the second time the fire service had rescued the same cat from the tree in four months.

Details of Sunday's rescue, which were published on the EDP's website, have prompted angry online responses from readers.

'A M' questioned the waste of resources, adding: 'How were fire crews able to spend so much time on this? Do cats ever die up trees?'

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And 'Andy T' said: 'Hope the RSPCA and/or owner foots the bill, although unlikely! What if there had been a real emergency when seconds are vital?'

Shirley Scott commented: 'When the country is struggling in the midst of extensive cuts to essential public services, I hardly think it the remotest bit justifiable to call out these firemen just to rescue someone's moggy.'

Roy Harold, assistant chief fire officer for Norfolk, has defended the decision to help, saying crews would have diverted to any more pressing emergency, and members of the public sometimes put themselves at risk trying to rescue animals.

And an RSPCA spokesman said they had only asked the fire service for help after the cat had been stuck for 36 hours and all other rescue attempts had failed. The charity has now told the owner that if it happens again she should contact a tree surgeon, at her own expense.

The owner, who did not want to be identified, said North Walsham firefighters had tried hosing the cat but the water had driven him further up the tree.

The Yarmouth crew had lopped off some branches in order to get their aerial platform in place and had managed to bring him to safety.

Mr Harold said the fire service always gave top priority to human life at risk and the majority of the force's work was dealing with incidents such as road accidents and fires. But the public asked for help in a wide range of emergencies.

The brigade would only attend such small animal rescues at the request of the RSPCA with whom they had a good working relationship.