‘Great concern’ as attacks on firefighters in East Sussex on the rise

Attacks on firefighters responding to 999 calls in East Sussex have trebled in the past year, a Freedom of Information request has revealed.

Thursday, 7th November 2019, 3:26 pm
Attacks on firefighters have risen

There were 21 incidents recorded in 2018/19 – compared to seven incidents in the county the previous year.

East Sussex’s deputy chief fire officer Mark O’Brien said the increase was ‘of great concern’.

It comes despite the introduction of a new law in England and Wales last November which doubled the maximum prison terms for assaulting blue light workers from six months to a year.

Attacks on firefighters in East Sussex have trebled in the last year

Of the 21 incidents recorded in East Sussex this year, nine took place in Brighton and Hove, while six occurred in Hastings and three took place in Eastbourne.

Verbal abuse accounted for more than a third of the incidents, a breakdown provided by the fire service showed.

There were also three incidents of physical abuse, two of harassment, two instances where objects were thrown at firefighters or appliances and three incidents which were recorded as ‘other acts of aggression’.

Deputy Chief Fire Officer Mark O’Brien said: “Any attacks on firefighters and our other colleagues – whether physical or verbal – are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

The findings from an investigation by this newspaper

“We have not seen any recent incidents where a firefighter was seriously hurt but we have seen a rise in the overall number of incidents and that is of great concern.”

In the last five years, there have been a total of 61 attacks on firefighters in the county.

Firefighters suffered ‘slight injuries’ in three of these instances, while in one case ‘serious injuries’ were reported.

Mr O’Brien said the fire service had ‘zero tolerance’ for attacks on crew and other staff and said he welcomed the introduction of the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018.

“We encourage all members of East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service to report any incidents where they feel threatened or at risk and we have a strong reporting culture,” he said.

“We will also support efforts to bring prosecutions to help protect our staff.”

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said attacks on firefighters were ‘absolutely appalling’.

He said: “Firefighters put their own lives on the line to save others – they are a vital part of the community and will save anyone and everyone, regardless of who they are, which could even include their attackers.”

Analysis of the incidents reported in East Sussex over the last five years show November to be the most common month for attacks to occur – which is likely due to bonfire night falling on November 5.

An investigation by this newspaper and other JPIMedia titles has found that, across England and Wales, the number of attacks on firefighters responding to emergencies has risen marginally in the last year, despite the introduction of the ‘protect the protectors’ law last November.

Figures released from 44 out of 45 fire services showed there were 746 incidents reported in 2018/19.

This was a seven per cent rise on the year before, when there had been 696 attacks.

Chris Bryant, the MP for 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.”

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