8 January 2013, 12:09 | Updated: 8 January 2013, 12:45
Hertfordshire's Fire Service have defended a decision to send three fire crews to rescue a squirrel that couldn't get out of a pond in Watford.
The animal had slipped into the water near The Parade at lunchtime on Sunday 6 January 2013, but couldn't clamber out back onto the bank.
A passer-by called 999, and three fire engines were dispatched to help rescue the squirrel from the ankle-deep water.
Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue say they sent the fire crews because they initially thought a person was also in trouble in the water.
When it became apparent this was not the case, they say they still went ahead and rescued the squirrel because of fears other people might put themselves at risk trying to help the animal.
Emily Sharman, 39, who was out shopping, told The Daily Mail: "I saw the fire engines arrive and thought there must be a big fire somewhere. I couldn't believe it when I hard they were going to rescue a squirrel."
A spokesperson for Hertfordshire Fire & Rescue Service said: "The first call we received about this indicated that people were in the water.
"The Fire and Rescue Service was concerned about their safety so sent the necessary crews to assist with what we understood to be a water rescue. However, on arrival there was no-one in the water. Had it been made clear to us during the first 999 call that no one was in the water, we would have left the squirrel to the RSPCA."
The decision to send firefighters to rescue the squirrel has been criticised by some newspapers, with some claiming the operation would have cost thousands of pounds. Hertfordshire Fire insist the rescue cost very little taxpayers' money, since all the firefighters were being paid for being on-shift anyway.
Herts Fire also say if more serious incidents had been going on at the same time, the squirrel would have been left to fend for itself.
The whole operation took around 20 minutes.