Twenty five firemen stood and watched as a struggling seagull floundered in a 3ft-deep pond, too scared to wade in and save it.
The papers have all blamed health and safety rules and praised the member of the public who grabbed a net and went and did the job himself.
Answers have been demanded of the fire brigade and parallels drawn with similar instances in which humans were left to drown after fire crews were ordered by their superiors not to try a rescue because they might be in danger.
(Let's not wonder too hard about the person who saw the struggling gull and thought they'd call the fire brigade away from their important work of putting out actual fires, rather than just wade in and get the poor thing themselves.)
The most telling part of the whole silly mess comes from bystander Ted Burden, who said: "It was a bit ridiculous really. Five fire crews turned up but because of protocols they couldn't go into the water... Luckily the gull escaped uninjured. He was just a bit shocked."
Well, I know how he feels. FIVE FIRE CREWS? FIVE? After a call about a SEAGULL?
While their reasoning about not going in the knee-deep water was clearly bonkers, I can half understand it. You might slip. There are 24 other chaps nearby who'd pull you out before you drowned, but yes in theory there might be a danger in going for a paddle IF YOU'RE A MUPPET.
But just what, in the name of all that's fartarsing holy, went through the minds of the first crew to turn up?
1. It's only a seagullThe only times in my career I've seen five fire engines in one place are tower block infernos and tyre conflagrations. Never, it must be said, for anything that couldn't be called threatening to a multiple number of lives.
2. Ooh, I might get wet
3. What we really need is another four fire crews
Yet for some reason, after turning up to reports of an animal in a pond, firemen 1 through 5 didn't think to get on to dispatch and call off the other crews. Firemen 6 through 10 then turned up and joined in the standing around, shortly followed by firemen 11 through 20.
It would seem not one of them rang the office to say they didn't need any more firemen. Presumably the last five turned up just because they felt a bit left out.
I'm not going to put it to the test but I'd bet you my last Jaffa cake that if I rang the fire brigade right now and told them my house, in a street surrounded by other houses, all with people in them, was on fire they'd not send more than one engine, or at the most two.
But then, I'm not a seagull. Quick question - if Kate Middleton was in the pond, would they have gone in and rescued her? Because that probably would have led to a few injuries.
On the same day the National Trust has published a list of 50 things every child should do before they grow up, including making mud pies, lighting a fire without matches and going blackberrying. Never mind that if those children grew up to become firemen most of the activities would be ruled out under Health and Safety risk assessments, especially the ones about playing conkers and finding frogspawn.
But in a spirit of helpfulness, here is a short checklist of things every fireman should do before he qualifies:
1. Tell a superior to naff offI love firemen. They're generally brilliant, brave people and they have lovely arms too. But even I don't want to see five crews in the same place, not unless it's a Christmas party or a disaster of some kind.
2. Differentiate between a SEAGULL and a HUMAN.
3. Or a fox. You can rescue foxes.
4. Learn that 'Health' and 'Safety' are not the same thing.
5. Sit in the middle of a knee-deep icy pond with a plastic bag on your face and see how long it takes to be rescued.
Not even if I get my head stuck in the drain after a heavy night on the tiles.
I still think the hose was a little unnecessary.