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Last Updated: Monday, 11 February 2008, 14:41 GMT
Fire crew attacks 'on the rise'
Firefighters generic
The FBU says crews are fighting bad behaviour as well as blazes

The number of violent attacks on fire crews in England and Wales is going up despite government claims to the contrary, the Fire Brigades Union says.

Assaults rose from 1,300 in 2006 to 1,500 in 2007, the union said. Official figures fell from 1,300 to 400.

It said such attacks had become a "recreational activity" with crews facing a daily threat of being ambushed, shot at, stabbed and abused.

The government said it was not complacent about the issue.

A study commissioned by the union suggests the number of attacks in England and Wales increased by 15% last year, while official data showed a drop of 68%.

One of the firefighters had six on top of him, punching him
John Cartwright, firefighter

In some parts of the country attacks were so frequent that they were no longer being reported, said the union, which is calling for better protection for firefighters.

John Cartwright, a firefighter in Greater Manchester, said he and his colleagues were attacked as they tried to put out a large bonfire.

He said: "We began to extinguish the fire, then we were making up the equipment when we were attacked by about 30 youths.

"One of the firefighters had six on top of him, punching him. They chucked bottles at us, bricks, garden ornaments."

Bottles and bricks

The FBU's study suggests there are about 40 attacks every week, ranging from stabbings and shootings to ambushes where firefighters are pelted with bottles or bricks.

The union's report - Easy Targets? - revealed a catalogue of serious assaults.

In some areas, attacking fire crews has become a recreational activity with very serious consequences
FBU general secretary Matt Wrack

In one incident a hoaxer lured firefighters to a supposed car fire in Cheshire before attacking them with bricks.

In another, a petrol bomb was thrown at a fire engine in Merseyside as firemen tackled a rubbish blaze.

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said it was almost "beyond belief" that firemen and women could be attacked so viciously while fighting fires and trying to save lives.

"In some areas, attacking fire crews has become a recreational activity with very serious consequences. It cannot be part of anyone's job to face abuse, threats or attacks," he said.

'Spit kits'

The FBU is calling for fire crews to receive training on dealing with violent attacks, and for more money to be invested in decent protection and catching attackers.

It wants dedicated funding to bring in a national strategy, which would include:

  • All fire authorities required to put in place plans to tackle the issue of attacks on fire crews

  • Collection of standardised statistics on attacks

  • Conflict resolution training where violent attacks cannot be avoided

  • Public awareness advertising campaigns that challenge attacks on firefighters

  • Fast police response to incidents, and requiring regular officers rather than community support officers

  • An independent assessment of the effectiveness and use of CCTV

  • Training and initiatives with schools and the community

    In Tyne and Wear, crews have been given "spit kits" so attackers' DNA can be collected, and in Greater Manchester engines have been fitted with CCTV cameras.

    The union's figures, collated from fire services in England and Wales, painted a more accurate picture of the problem than the government's statistics, Mr Wrack said.

    He urged the government to take a lead "rather than sitting on the sidelines ignoring the problem as it is doing in England".

    New legislation

    In Scotland, Northern Ireland and increasingly in Wales, the problem was being addressed more effectively, he said.

    Figures in Scotland fell 8% from 324 in 2006 to 316 attacks last year, according to the union.

    Can't the firefighters just spray them with the powerful hoses they carry?
    Tracey, Worcester

    In Northern Ireland, 285 attacks were reported in 2007 compared to 342 the previous year.

    The government said its figures were collated from fire services, but refused to say how many had provided the requested data.

    A spokeswoman for the Communities and Local Government Department said guidance had been issued to the fire and rescue service on tackling violence at work, including considering the use of CCTV in higher risk areas.

    Legislation had been brought in last year to help the fire service take action against people who assaulted firefighters, she added.

    The government believed the safety of firefighters was an important issue and it was unacceptable that crews should have to face attacks, she also said.

    Attacks on firefighters

    Three-quarters of all attacks took place in ten fire and rescue services

    Fire and rescue service No. attacks 2005-6 No. attacks 2006-7 % change
    Greater Manchester 259 240 -7.3
    South Yorkshire 90 148 +64.4
    Merseyside 189 145 -22.7
    West Yorkshire 135 117 -13.3
    Tyne and Wear 39 108 +176.9
    West Midlands 140 106 -24.3
    Cleveland 81 103 +27.2
    Durham and Darlington 40 83 +107.5
    South Wales 43 39 -9.3
    Lancashire 26 38 +46.1

    'Tide turns' on fire crew attacks
    08 Feb 08 |  Scotland
    Attacks on firefighters reduced
    08 Feb 08 |  Northern Ireland

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