Revealed: The shocking toll of attacks on our fire crews

Yobs attacked West Yorkshire firefighters 75 times in the past year, including one during a 999 call in Wakefield.
Yobs attacked West Yorkshire firefighters 75 times in the past year, including one during a 999 call in Wakefield.

Yobs attacked West Yorkshire firefighters 75 times in the past year, including during one 999 call in Wakefield.

A total of 378 attacked were reported in the county over the past five years – the second highest in England, according to figures obtained by the JPI Media Data Unit.

Source: Freedom of Information requests to the fire service.

Source: Freedom of Information requests to the fire service.

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The figures also show that tougher sentences introduced for assaulting blue-light workers have yet to cut the hundreds of attacks on firefighters each year.

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

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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 – campaigned for by Halifax MP Holly Lynch – 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”.

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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 spokeswoman for WYFRS said: “It is a sad reality that our firefighters are sometimes attacked whilst going about the course of their work protecting people and property. We condemn these attacks and pass any information to our partners at West Yorkshire Police, to assist in investigations. Our firefighters are supported following any such attack through our internal Occupational Health and Safety Unit.”

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.”

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

Case study: Temporarily blinded by firework

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

The attack happened in Keighley near Bonfire Night.

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.

“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.

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“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 an authority figure.

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.

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.”