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Last Updated: Monday, 18 April, 2005, 09:09 GMT 10:09 UK
Firefighters' plea to stop abuse
Firefighters say it is only a matter of time before someone dies
Firefighters have called for a national strategy to deal with the rising number of attacks on fire crews.

The Fire Brigades Union estimated there were 40 attacks each week and long-term solutions were needed for what was a national problem.

Rocks and bottles had been thrown at crews and scaffolding poles put through fire engine windscreens, it said.

FBU general secretary Andy Gilchrist said it was only "a question of time" before a firefighter was killed.

The union's research had shown crews were being subjected to abuse while fighting fires, had their equipment stolen or tampered with, or were urinated on.

Crews 'ambushed'

On other occasions, false emergency calls were made in a deliberate attempt to lure fire crews into ambushes.

It can never be part of anyone's job to get a brick or bottle in the head or to be spat at
Andy Gilchrist

The FBU said 1,200 attacks had been reported in Northern Ireland in the last three years, while 388 attacks had been reported in Scotland in 2004.

In England and Wales, in the nine-month period to the end of January 2005, from data from 18 of 50 brigades, 393 attacks were reported.

However, the union is concerned that under-reporting means the number of attacks could be as much as three times higher than the figure of around 2,000 cases a year.

'Getting worse'

Mr Gilchrist said: "The number and ferocity of the attacks appears to be getting worse.

"These attacks are inexcusable and must not be tolerated. It can never be part of anyone's job to get a brick or bottle in the head or to be spat at," he said.

Mr Gilchrist said firefighters wanted police to "apprehend and deal" with the attackers but that this would not solve the long-term problems.

"There is no quick-fix solution but we need to start with a properly resourced, national strategy rather than it being left to cash-strapped local fire services," he said.

Some of the most serious incidents included:

  • Salford, Greater Manchester, 25 March 2005: Crews pelted with bricks as they tackled a fire. Two firefighters taken to hospital.

  • Rochdale, Greater Manchester, 1 April 2005: Fire crews pelted with rocks and forced to withdraw.

  • Walsall, West Midlands, Jan 17, 2005: Youths as young as 12 attack firefighters tackling a house fire. Police attending the scene are also hit with bottles, bricks and stones.

  • Tilbury, Essex, 26 November 2004: Crews hit with missiles while attending a playground fire. Youths threaten firefighters with knives and cut water supplies.

    BBC labour affairs correspondent Stephen Cape said the problem was very complex and the FBU did not want a "knee-jerk" reaction.

    "It is the under-reporting that they want actually tackled, if there was a proper measure, if all the cases were noted down, then it would be much easier to tackle it," he said.

    Our correspondent said attacks were happening in areas with poor youth facilities and poor housing where "bored young people" were using drugs and alcohol. Attacks were in rural as well as inner-city areas.

    See footage of one fire crew being attacked

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    23 Mar 05 |  Northern Ireland
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    Increase in firefighter attacks
    04 Nov 03 |  Scotland

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