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Last Updated: Monday, 18 April 2005, 11:59 GMT 12:59 UK
Job comes with 'abuse and bricks'
By Anna Browning
BBC News

Firefighter
Crews are often forced to retreat from a scene, says Mr Fensome

Tim Fensome has been a firefighter for 26 years.

Many would think his job largely involves tackling fires unhindered, yet an increasing part of his working life is spent facing youths hell-bent on abusing and attacking him and his colleagues.

And the situation is getting worse, he says. Based at Agecroft fire station, Greater Manchester, the 44-year-old now faces one such incident a week, he estimates. Once he was hit in the face with a brick.

Other incidents have included ambushes and cars "booby-trapped" with gas cylinders, while a colleague was off work for weeks with severe leg injuries after also being hit by a brick.

Bottles and cans

"It's got worse over the last five years or so. It's been building up to a point that it is quite difficult attending some incidents because of the oppression from local youths," he told the BBC News website.

"Normally it starts off with a bit of intimidation and verbal abuse, but it can get to the stage where they start throwing missiles at us. Things like bottles, cans, bricks, garden furniture - anything that comes to hand really.

"There have been instances of them cutting fire hoses or turning off the water supply while we are inside tackling a fire."

Tim Fensome
We are very aware of the dangers that can happen if we ... lose our concentration from what we are dealing with.
Tim Fensome

On occasion he and his crew are forced to retreat to a safe distance until they get backup from either other fire crews or the police.

Theft of equipment is another problem. Not just from fire engines, but from behind you "if you just turn your back for a second".

The married father-of-two blames easy access to alcohol and "maybe other substances" combined with boredom, and a lack of discipline and respect for authority.

'Morale high'

It is not an uncommon sight to see children as young as seven at incidents as late as 2300, he said.

But it is the older ones who really worry him.

"Some of the 16, 17-year-olds today are as big as adults, which can be scary," he said.

"A 17-year-old can hurl half-a-brick a good number of yards."

Despite all this morale was still high, he said.

"But we are very aware of the dangers that can happen if we allow it to cause us to lose our concentration from what we are dealing with. It is more likely then mistakes may happen.

"We are only responding to calls for assistance, to help the public in their distress, but sometimes it turns out we are the ones in distress."


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
See footage of one fire crew being attacked



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