Hundreds of fireworks and missiles thrown at firefighters on 999 call-outs

Monday, 28th October 2019, 6:00 pm
Updated Monday, 28th October 2019, 6:03 pm

Firefighters responding to emergencies have come under attack hundreds of times in the past year. Photo: Shutterstock.

Tougher sentences for assaulting blue-light workers have yet to cut the hundreds of attacks on firefighters each year, it can be revealed.

There were more than 900 attacks on fire crews responding to emergencies across the UK, roughly the same number as the year before.

Firefighters say attacks often intensify around Bonfire Night.

'Laid as a trap'

Dave Gillian, a firefighter and Fire Brigades Union rep, was temporarily blinded by a firework thrown at him in 2016.

The attack happened in the West Yorkshire town of Keighley.

He said: “We got a call-out to a lamppost on fire, which is a bit of a strange one, I’ve never come across that before.

Dave Gillian of the Fire Brigades Union in West Yorkshire

“There was a plate at the bottom with electronics behind it and that was smouldering, so we went down there.

"I think it had basically been laid as a trap to get us down there. As we were looking at it to work out what to do with it, fireworks came raining down on us.

“We were near a fence and they were basically hitting the fence and bouncing back at our feet and going off there.

“Nobody was hurt, we had our protective gear on, but one exploded between my feet.

"My main instinct was to put my hose on it but before I could do that, it went off.

“I got temporarily blinded, I couldn’t see for a few seconds, and we all had ringing ears for a few days.”

Mr Gillian, 40, said he believed one of the reasons fire crews were targeted was because they were seen as authority figures.

He described attacking firefighters as “crazy and wrong”.

But he said perpetrators were often from deprived areas and had been “starved of opportunity”, adding that the answer was to invest in youth services and education.

'Being attacked should never be part of the job'

Figures obtained from 49 of the UK’s 50 fire services show crews were physically abused more than 70 times and had fireworks or missiles thrown at them more than 200 times in 2018/19.

At least nine firefighters were injured.

This is despite the introduction of a law in England and Wales last November which doubled the maximum prison terms for assaulting blue light workers from six months to a year.

Chris Bryant MP (Labour, Rhondda), who spearheaded the so-called Protect the Protectors law by tabling a Private Members Bill, said he feared the justice system was “still not taking this seriously enough and the courts have still not taken on board the fact that this law is in place”.

He said: “We need a complete zero-tolerance attitude towards any kind of violence towards our emergency workers. Any assault on them is an assault on all of us.”

A Government spokesperson said: “Being attacked should never be part of the job for our firefighters, which is why we have been clear about the need for better protection and stronger sentences.”

Mr Gillian said he wasn’t surprised that the Protect the Protectors law had so far had little effect on those who attack firefighters.

He said: “I suspect there is not one single one of them who would know about this legislation, so I think it’s a bit of gesture politics unfortunately.”

'Despicable'

In Scotland, where a similar law had already been introduced in 2005, attacks on firefighters have risen by a third (36%) in just a year.

There were 72 attacks on firefighters during emergency call-outs in 2018/19, including eight in which staff were physically abused and one which resulted in injury.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “All attacks against our emergency services, including our fire and rescue service officers, are despicable and we condemn them in the strongest possible terms.

"There will be a zero tolerance approach to attacks on our firefighters.”

In Northern Ireland, attacks on firefighters during call-outs hit a five-year low of 93 in 2018/19, figures obtained by the JPIMedia Data unit through the Freedom of Information Act show.

But the country still saw more attacks than in either Scotland or Wales, the figures show.

Assaulting a firefighter in Northern Ireland can result in two years’ jail, and the Department of Justice said it would soon be reviewing sentencing for attacks on frontline public services.