There are 40 attacks on UK fire crews every week and the problem is getting worse, according to research carried out for the Fire Brigades Union.
The Labour Research Department found that in some parts of the UK, fire crews are “served a daily diet of bricks, bottles and missiles as they fight fires” and ambushes have been set for firefighters, the union claimed.
The attacks include: scaffold 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.
The report said under-reporting of attacks meant that the figure could be as much as three times higher.
Although seen largely as an inner-city problem, the research uncovered reports of attacks in the South Wales valleys, Berkshire, small towns in Scotland and 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.”
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 research said.
The union said 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 about 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 UK, 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 does not. 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.