Special report: Attacks on fire crews '˜seen as badge of honour' by offenders

ATTACKING a firefighter has become 'a badge of honour' in the twisted mentality of some offenders, union leaders have warned amid a rising tide of abuse against emergency-service workers.

Watch Commander Phil Warden, at Odsal Fire Station, Huddersfield Rd, Bradford, has been repeatedly attacked while out on jobs in the Bradford area. In one incident a large stone was thrown through the window of his fire station by a gang of 20-30 people, fracturing his nose in 11 places.

Yorkshire firefighters carrying out “vital” work were attacked more than 300 times in the last two years – with physical attacks, fireworks and missiles thrown at fire appliances, and life-saving equipment damaged.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said the abuse against firefighters across Yorkshire, which rose 17 per cent from 146 incidents in 2016 to 171 in 2017, further put the public at risk – and that attacking a firefighter had become a “badge of honour”.

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Pete Smith, acting executive council member for the FBU in Yorkshire and the Humber, called on the Government to ensure the Assaults on Emergency Service Workers Bill, which would toughen sentences for attackers and is due for its Third Reading on April 27, was passed.

Mr Smith said: “If we are being attacked, it could mean time off due to injuries, meaning we cannot perform, help people and, ultimately, save lives.

“You wouldn’t expect somebody working in an office to be punched or hit by a plank of wood. The only deterrent will be through Parliament with stricter punishments and custodial sentences.”

On Saturday, The Yorkshire Post exclusively revealed more than 6,000 police, firefighters, ambulance workers and hospital staff across the region had been assaulted at work in 2016 and 2017.

West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service saw 208 attacks during the period – including 12 physical attacks, seven of which involved the use of weapons.

The brigade’s deputy chief fire officer Dave Walton said its “zero-tolerance” approach meant “each and every” attack was reported, but it was “simply unacceptable” to attribute such attacks to being part of the job.

“It is all too easy to target 
emergency services staff with verbal abuse and thrown objects when the fear of sanction is not there,” he said.

“Whilst the Bill will not deal with all of the issues that underpin this type of attack, we want the perpetrators to very seriously consider the consequences of being caught and dealt with by the justice system.

“Hopefully this will lead to our staff feeling safer as they undertake their vital, life-saving work.”

The service recently signed a memorandum of understanding with West Yorkshire Police, pledging support in the wake of an attack.

Deputy chief constable John Robins said: “Police officers have to go into violent situations and have to be prepared to deal with any response, but ambulance services and fire services are just saving lives. Why anyone would want to hurt them beggars belief.”

South Yorkshire’s firefighters were subjected to 77 attacks in the last two years, while the Humberside brigade saw 17 assaults, and North Yorkshire recorded 15 incidents.

North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service’s area manager Carl Boasman said: “Whilst the occurrences are relatively infrequent, any level of violence or abuse against our staff is not acceptable. In common with our emergency-service partners, fire and rescue staff frequently put themselves at risk to help and protect others.”

The Humberside Fire and Rescue Service’s group manager responsible for health and safety, Paul Clucas, added: “We hope that introducing a specific offence will prove an added deterrent, but ultimately it comes down to these groups or individuals realising that the time we lose dealing with aggression or assault at an incident could cost someone their life.”

Bill seeks tougher sentences

ATTACKS on firefighters will merit increased sentences under the Assaults on Emergency Workers Bill, which was inspired by Halifax MP Holly Lynch’s Protect the Protectors campaign.

The new legislation is due to see the maximum sentence for common assault increased from six months to 12 months, and it would also force judges to consider that the assault was against an emergency worker when they are passing sentence on an offender.

The new tougher sentencing rules would also cover attacks on police and prison officers as well as custody officers, along with members of the search-and-rescue services and certain healthcare workers, including ambulance personnel.

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