A mother of five was forced to watch helplessly as flames engulfed her home because the nearest available firemen were nine miles away in Birmingham city centre.
It should have taken just five minutes for an engine to reach the semi-detached house in Shirley, because Solihull fire station is just two miles away.
But both its engines were busy at a community event promoting fire safety awareness, leading to a 17 minute delay.
The blaze destroyed nearly half the downstairs bedroom and left smoke damage to the rest of the house in Newborough Road, Shirley.
The single mum and her children all escaped unhurt. The mother declined to be named.
It was an engine from Central Fire Station in the city centre's Lancaster Circus which was sent to the incident.
Its driver, firefighter Tony Woods, said his crew were shocked to discover they were the first at the scene.
"To travel such a distance and to be the first there is disgusting," he said. "It's the first time in my 26 year career I've known us go that distance and be the first engine there."
A neighbour who spotted smoke from the house had dialled 999 at 3.27pm - but the first two appliances did not get there until 3.44pm, followed minutes later by a third engine.
In the meantime he had become so concerned he had dialled 999 again to ask where the fire engine was.
The neighbour, who did not want to be named, said: "We weren't very impressed because if there had been people in the house, they'd have been in trouble."
Mr Woods added: "If it had been a driver who was unfamiliar with the area it would have taken us longer," he said.
"People expect a fire engine to be there within five minutes.
"We thought we were going as back-up because Billesley and Hay Mills are nearer."
Fire service spokesman assistant divisional officer Andy Grosvenor said the nearest stations to the fire were unavailable. Solihull had both its fire engines doing community work.
The four other nearest ones from Highgate and Billesley were at a house fire and a false alarm.
"When the call came in, fire control was in the process of moving other appliances into the area to provide cover," he said.
"But at that time the nearest appliance was Central."
West Midlands Fire Service is poised to axe 15 engines at night as part of the national modernisation of the fire service.
Last November, the brigade introduced its Integrated Risk Management Plan, where 15 engines are placed in the Strategic Reserve every day to carry out fire safety education work.
These engines are not available for 999 calls, however, in the event of a major fire, they can be recalled and will be available within 60 minutes.