Leiston: Amazement as five fire crews sent to rescue cat

HEALTH and safety regulations meant more than 20 firefighters were called to rescue a cat from the roof of a two-storey house.

Five crews – two from as far away as Bury St Edmunds – were sent to a residential road in Leiston yesterday morning when the tabby cat got stuck.

Their attendance was to comply with national “working at height” regulations and the need to ensure the health and safety of firefighters and any people who may have needed rescuing.

Last night, the fire service’s response was criticised as “ridiculous” and a waste of taxpayers’ money.

Suffolk Fire Service sent a turntable ladder from Bury St Edmunds – a similar ladder at Ipswich is currently out of service – with a two-strong crew, which was accompanied by a support crew from the same station. They set out on the 60-mile trip to Leiston about 9.45am.

Firefighter crews with specialist training in working at heights – each likely to be four or five strong – were also mobilised from Felixstowe, 30 miles away, and Bungay, 20 miles away, to the scene in Roberts Road.

But the crews were turned back within minutes when an on-call firefighter from the Leiston crew climbed a ladder and collected the distressed cat – under the guidelines firefighters are allowed to work temporarily from the top of a ladder.

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Suffolk Fire Service recently adopted national regulations drawn up in 2005 to ensure the safety of people working at height, according to the Fire Brigades’ Union (FBU).

The response would have cost the taxpayer thousands of pounds. The crews from Leiston and Bungay are on-call, or retained, while the other stations involved have day-only cover.

Andy Vingoe, Suffolk branch chairman of the FBU, said: “Health and safety says that if we go up on to a roof, it brings into play our working at height procedures and safety system.

“If a cat is stuck on a roof, there is a chance the owner could get distressed and try to rescue it themselves and we would end up having to rescue them as well.

“It is crazy and it’s overkill and if we are having to send five teams to an incident like that, what happens if there is a serious incident elsewhere?

“It strengthens our case that we need more people to make sure we have enough cover to cope with the demands of the service.”

A spokesman for campaign group The Taxpayers’ Alliance said: “It’s ridiculous that five fire crews were sent out to rescue one cat.

“It’s almost laughable but wasting resources is bad news for taxpayers and others who might have needed to be rescued, so it’s not funny. Of course we want firemen to be safe, but health and safety and red tape has resulted in an excessive and costly response.”

A spokeswoman for Suffolk County Council said it had been called by the RSPCA to help with the incident and that the response was in line with national regulations.

“Due to the nature of the incident, fire crews with the specialist training and equipment were called to attend, in addition to the local crew. The incident was quickly dealt with by the local crew so the specialist teams were stood down and did not attend,” she said.

Teresa Saunders, who lives in Roberts Road, said she called the fire service at about 9.40am after hearing the cat crying and shrieking.

The 49-year-old carer said: “The firefighters deserve a lot of praise. They were very quick and dealt with it incredibly well.

“I don’t know whose it was – it had a blue collar and was a tortoise shell tabby. It was perfectly fine as far as I could tell. It ran off as soon as it got down.”