Holly Lynch: Shocking firework attacks on our emergency services must be stopped

Firefighters are frequently targeted around Bonfire Night
Firefighters are frequently targeted around Bonfire Night
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I HAVE fond memories of setting off fireworks with my family in our back garden over the course of Bonfire Night. So it’s with great sadness that repeated instances of irresponsible, anti-social, and at times dangerous misuse of fireworks led me to argue in Parliament that we need much tighter regulation around their sale and use.

My greatest cause for concern is the way in which fireworks are used to attack the emergency services every Bonfire weekend. I saw this for myself when I shadowed West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue and West Yorkshire Police before Bonfire Night last year. Both myself, and the MP for Bradford South, Judith Cummins, spent time with the emergency services on the frontline in Bradford.

Several crews working out of fire appliances and fire cars that night were subject to attacks involving fireworks. The crew of one of the fire appliances had fireworks aimed at them that exploded just inches away from their faces.

Chief Superintendent Mabs Hussain of West Yorkshire Police hit the nail on the head when he was quoted in The Yorkshire Post as saying “many of the people doing this wouldn’t arm themselves with a knife or a gun, but don’t realise that using a firework as a weapon isn’t mischievous, it is highly dangerous”.

I launched the “Protect the Protectors” campaign having seen and heard too many harrowing incidents of emergency service workers coming under attack. Yet even I was surprised to learn that over that Bonfire weekend, every instance of fire resources being deployed to calls in Bradford had police officers co-deployed alongside them, as the risk of fire crews being attacked was so high. ​

We had anticipated that the Saturday night would be the busiest of the weekend, however Bonfire Night on the Sunday evening proved to be even worse. There were 18 attacks on fire crews over the Bonfire weekend in West Yorkshire alone, with the vast majority involving fireworks. That was twice as many as the year before. The current rules and regulations are simply not effective, and the situation continues to deteriorate.

There has also been a long-running problem in my constituency with fireworks being used at all times of the day and night; causing tensions within communities. In Halifax, we have increasingly seen fireworks used as a means of celebrating weddings, making them a year-round occurrence. The geography of the area worsens the problem, as loud explosions echo around the valleys.

Last summer, one single explosion at 1am woke residents, including myself, up to four miles away from the source of the initial firework. It was not until the following morning, having returned to my office and seen the many emails in my inbox, that I got a clear indication of the location from which these were being launched. It was shocking to realise the noise had travelled so far and affected so many people.

A constituent also contacted me last April to say that fireworks had started just past midnight on a Sunday night and continued non-stop until 2.30am. During the same incident, residents took to Facebook in the early hours to express their frustrations. A woman who lived close to where the fireworks were being set off commented: “Me and my son were up until 2am, he was so scared, we slept on the living room floor.”

The problem is a handful of individuals using fireworks specifically to show that theirs are bigger and louder than everybody else’s.

I have been trying to find a resolution to this problem and have been in regular contact with the local police and the council’s environmental health department. It’s clear that because of the nature of fireworks, it is difficult to take enforcement action after the event, when the evidence will literally have gone up in smoke.

We therefore need political action to tackle the irresponsible, and anti-social use, of fireworks by focusing on the point of sale.

The goal is that fireworks are not used in the middle of the night in residential areas, that the noise does not carry for four miles, and that fireworks are never put in drainpipes and fired at emergency service workers. The existing laws are evidently not achieving these aims.

That is why, despite my love of fireworks, I am hoping that the Government will act to better regulate them so that they are no longer used so irresponsibly.

Holly Lynch is the Labour MP for Halifax