Firefighters have condemned recent attacks on fire crews around Bonfire Night, Halloween and other public festivals and events. The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has also warned that a downward trend in such attacks over recent years could be undermined or reversed if the neutrality of firefighters is undermined by a police takeover.
The warning from the FBU, which represents over 85% of fire and rescue service staff in the UK, comes after a number of incidents throughout the UK where firefighters were attacked while on duty. In Staffordshire, firefighters were forced to call for backup when they were surrounded by a group of youths. Manchester firefighters were pelted with bricks and fireworks while fire crews in Peterborough were attacked as they were extinguishing a bonfire. A number of such incidents were reported in Scotland. Other attacks were reported in Northumberland and Leeds. In at least one incident fire hoses were slashed. These follow recent attacks on fire crews in Northern Ireland.
The union expressed concern that such attacks could worsen if plans in England to allow a police takeover of the fire and rescue service are allowed to proceed. The government is currently consulting on plans to allow responsibility for fire and rescue services to be taken over by Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) as part of a wider consultation on closer collaboration between emergency services.
Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: â€œThe attacks faced by firefighters over the past few days have been shocking and disgraceful. Our members work every day to protect the public. To be attacked by some of the people youâ€™re there to serve is outrageous. Thankfully, these sorts of incidents are not common, but we do not want this becoming the norm. We fear that violent attacks on firefighters, which have reduced over the past 10 years – largely because of the increased presence of firefighters in their local communities – could make a resurgence.
â€œIt would be a mistake to allow politicians to confuse the different roles of firefighters and the police. Firefighters and police are perceived very differently. If the fire and rescue service is seen as an extension of the police force we will likely see an erosion of the public trust that we rely on daily when we need to access peopleâ€™s homes to tackle fires, to perform preventative work, such as fitting fire alarms, and community safety work. We provide a humanitarian service – not a law enforcement service. It is a mistake for anyone to think otherwise.â€
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