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NEW RESEARCH: ATTACKS ON FIREFIGHTERS RISE TO 40 A WEEK

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There are 40 attacks on UK fire crews every week and the problem is getting worse, according to new research carrie...
There are 40 attacks on UK fire crews every week and the problem is getting worse, according to new research carried out for the Fire Brigades Union.

In some parts of the country, fire crews are served a daily diet of bricks, bottles and missiles as they fight fires; in parts of the country ambushes have been set for firefighters.

The attacks include: scaffolding poles being thrown through windscreens of fire engines; crews being attacked with concrete blocks, bricks and bottles; being shot at; spat at; equipment tampered with or stolen; direct physical assaults on fire crews; and equipment being urinated on.

And under-reporting of attacks means that the figure could be as much as three times higher. Official statistics show that attacks are now running at about 2,000 a year, but the FBU and the brigades contacted during the research acknowledge that there is a serious problem of under-reporting.

Although seen largely as an inner city problem, the research uncovered reports of attacks in the South Wales valleys, Royal Berkshire, small towns in Scotland and sedate Tonbridge Wells.

FBU general secretary Andy Gilchrist said: 'The number and ferocity of the attacks appears to be getting worse. A young boy died in Scotland during one attack and it is only a question of time before a firefighter is killed.

'These attacks are inexcusable and must not be tolerated. It can never be part of anyone's job to get a brick or bottle in the head or to be spat at.

'The causes appear complex and we need more than knee-jerk reaction headlines calling for 'crackdowns'. Many attacks are in deprived areas with poor youth facilities and poor housing, where bored young people turn to drugs and alcohol.

'But they happen in many other types of areas which are neither poor nor deprived. There is no quick-fix solution but we need to start with a properly resourced, national strategy rather than it being left to cash-strapped local fire services,' Mr Gilchrist said.

There is evidence of fires being deliberately started to lure fire crews into pre-planned ambushes. Even if actual physical violence doesn't take place, fire crews still face threats, intimidation and abuse.

Official figures from Northern Ireland reveal that there were 1,200 attacks on crews in the last three years, with serious concerns that the problem is being underplayed. In Scotland, where statistics have only been collated more recently, 388 hostile incidents were recorded in 2004.

In England and Wales, in the nine-month period to the end of January 2005 (based on data from only 18 of 50 brigades) 393 attacks were reported. When statistics are extrapolated to cover all brigades over 12 months, they suggest more than 1,200 attacks.

The level of under-reporting is demonstrated by official statistics from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, showing that there were only nine attacks in the whole of the Greater Manchester area in the nine months to the end of January 2005. Figures collected by the brigade itself indicate attacks running at around 200 a year.

Key points from the analysis by Labour Research Department

-- Statistics - more needs to be done to ensure there is proper collection of standardised statistics on attacks. In some brigades, fire crews are being encouraged to report every single incident, but they will be encouraged even more if they understand how the figures can be used.

-- Co-ordination and evaluation - different initiatives are being taken around the country, including public awareness campaigns and community-based projects with offenders and potential offenders. These need to be monitored and properly evaluated at national level so that brigades can learn more quickly what works and what doesn't. What may help in one area may hinder in another.

-- Training - operational guidance on dynamic risk assessment can be part of the solution but crews need to be properly trained in its application. If incidents cannot be avoided then an appropriate level of training for fire crews should help them deal with the situations.

-- Resources - training and initiatives with schools and the community need to be maintained over the long term and need dedicated resources.

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