Journalist, Cherry Park

Author Bio ▼

Cherry Park is an experienced freelance journalist and reporter who specializes in features, news, and news analysis, in print and online. She has written extensively in the areas of health and safety, fire safety, employment, HR, recruitment, rewards, pay and benefits, market research, environment, and metallurgy, and she also conducts research.
March 26, 2014

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Surge in Attacks on Firefighters Prompts Campaign

A recent spate of violent attacks on fire crews is “beyond belief” and must be stopped, the Chief Fire Officer of South Wales Fire & Rescue Service (SWFRS) said while launching a fresh campaign against such attacks.

Emphasising the theme of the campaign – We Can’t Protect While We Are Under Attack – Huw Jakeway said that attacks on fire crews had increased by 16% in under two years. There have already been 14 attacks in the eight months from April to December 2013 in South Wales alone.

And the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) claims that attacks on its members in fact number four times the official government figures, owing to under-reporting. It has called for more training of fire crews on dealing with such incidents and the allocation of greater funding dedicated to protecting firefighters.

Firefighters have been punched and kicked, spat at, had missiles such as bottles and bricks thrown at them and been subjected to verbal abuse during callouts. In other parts of the country firefighters have even been shot at or stabbed while responding to emergency incidents, according to SWFRS.

A fire crew trying to extinguish an out-of-control fire on Bonfire night in Penygraig in the Rhondda Valley had to retreat from the scene because of attacks from between 30 and 40 youths who threw objects at the fire engine, blocked the crew’s path and stopped them from reaching the fire, leaving it blazing uncontrollably with obvious risks to people and property nearby.

Another firefighter attacked on Bonfire night spoke of the “total contempt” with which the brigade was often treated.

“Serious consequences”

Jakeway warned that such attacks could lead to loss of life should firefighters be prevented from responding decisively to fires.

“It is absolutely beyond belief that our firefighters are being attacked so viciously while responding to emergency incidents and trying to save lives,” he said. “Attacking our fire crews has very serious consequences and it cannot and will not be part of anyone’s job to face abuse, threats or attacks.”

A firefighter was injured after being kicked in the face while responding to an emergency call at an Edinburgh flat in November 2012. As a consequence of the attack, which saw the perpetrator arrested, a fire engine was taken off the run for two hours until a replacement driver could be found, leaving the brigade short of an emergency vehicle.

Eighty attacks on firefighters were recorded in Scotland in 2012-13, although this at least represented 32 fewer incidents than the previous year, albeit it was broadly in line with a fall in firefighter headcount.

The SWFRS is taking steps to catch the perpetrators of these attacks, including installing digital CCTV cameras in the front, sides and back of fire engine cabs, thus giving a 360-degree view, and using DNA technology such as swab kits that officers can use if, for example, they have been spat upon.

Witnesses to such attacks on fire crews are being urged to report them to the local Police or Fire Crime Unit. Apps downloadable from several FRS’ websites are also available for this purpose.

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