Cleveland firefighters are to be fitted with body cameras in a pilot scheme to stem the rising number of violent attacks.

Latest figures show a 60% increase in incidents with more than 100 reported in the last three years.

On several occasions crews under attack, fearing for their own safety, have been forced to withdraw from tackling a fire.

Assorted missiles and weapons directed at firefighters include knives, metal bars, stones, laser pens, large planks of wood, beer cans and catapults firing bolts and ball bearings.

Damage to appliances has resulted in smashed windscreens, broken mirrors, scratched paintwork and there have been reports of attempted theft of equipment as well as people deliberately twisting or standing on hose reels to stop the flow of water.

Crews have been surrounded by gangs of youths wearing balaclavas, individuals jumping on appliances and aggressive verbal abuse.

Ian Hayton, Chief Fire Officer, Cleveland Fire Brigade, said: “Such behaviour beggars belief and is wholly irresponsible. Our firefighters do a fantastic job in protecting the local community and saving lives. The fact that their job is made even more difficult by the thoughtless actions of a minority is hard to believe and will not be tolerated. Such violence puts them at risk of injury or even worse and can also stop them from attending an emergency where lives may be at risk.

“Our appliances are already equipped with CCTV cameras and this latest step will add to our resources in providing the police with evidence of criminal behaviour and appropriate action will be taken. Cleveland Fire Brigade has zero tolerance for such behaviour.”

From April 2015 to the end of March 2016 there were 28 reported violent attacks on crews. For the same period from April last year to March 2018 there were 45 such incidents – an increase of just over 60% over three years. There were 31 incidents in 2016/17.

Superintendent Dave Sutherland, Cleveland Police, said: “It is inconceivable that the very people who put their lives on the line to protect people and save others’ lives are subjected to such violence and abuse by a minority of people.

“Introducing body cameras will be a good way of gathering evidence and it could potentially assist with putting people before the courts wherever appropriate and securing convictions. We will work with our colleagues in the fire service to identify anyone responsible for targeting firefighters and deal with them appropriately.”