Attacks on firefighters double in five years in North Yorkshire

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

Thursday, 31st October 2019, 2:50 pm
Updated Thursday, 31st October 2019, 3:14 pm

There were more than 900 attacks on firefighters responding to emergencies across the UK in 2018/19, roughly the same number as the year before, JPI Media’s investigations team have found.

In North Yorkshire, the number of attacks in 2018/19 more than doubled, to 13 from six in 2014/15.

A graphic showing some of the statistic uncovered by JPI Media's Data team.

Two of those attacks took place in Scarborough, which were categorised as involving “other acts of aggression”.

Steve Howley, a frontline firefighter for 22 years and head of the Fire Brigades Union in North Yorkshire for 10 years, said: “In North Yorkshire we’re blessed that attacks are not as common as they are in some other areas like West Yorkshire and north of the border in Cleveland.

“However, they do occur and it does seriously impact our ability to do our jobs, not just at the incident but after.

“If a firefighter is injured then that fire appliance is unavailable until cover is able to be arranged.”

Stock photo.

In his career Mr Howley has experienced teenagers opening the cab on a fire engine and throwing fireworks inside, drunken people pushing firefighters about on a Friday and Saturday night, and ambushes being set up at traveller sites and housing estates, leading to fire crews having bricks and stones thrown at them upon arrival.

He added: “There’s no sense in any of it, we’re not the police, we’re not an enforcement agency, we’re there to save lives.”

Staff say attacks can intensify around Bonfire Night.

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.”