West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service (WYFRS) is launching a campaign against attacks on firefighters after seeing a spike in violent incidents towards crews in the last year.
The campaign, called More than a Uniform, is delivering a zero tolerance message in the run up to the bonfire period – which is historically a peak time of year when attacks occur.
Last financial year, (2016/17) there were 95 attacks on our operational crews – up from 65 the year before, representing a 50 per cent increase.
In total 33 of the attacks happened in the month of November 2016 and 20 were on Bonfire Night itself.
And already this year there have been a handful of attacks.
The latest was on Sunday evening (22/10/17) when crews were attending a fire in the open in Bradford and fireworks were thrown at them.
A firework hit a firefighter in the stomach and despite not receiving serious injury he has had to take time off work.
The Service advised police of this matter and an 18-year-old male was arrested.
The Service is now reviewing its attendance of incidents in this area but will prioritise where there is a risk to life.
Deputy Chief Fire Officer Dave Walton said: “Attacks on our operational staff are now at their highest in five years. The rise in attacks on our crews is gravely concerning to us and as we approach the bonfire period, when we tend to see a flurry, we are delivering a clear message that it will not be tolerated.
“We believe our crews are sometimes targeted as they are seen as a ‘uniformed authority figure’ so our campaign aims to open people’s eyes to the fact that if you attack a firefighter, you may be attacking a mum or dad, a wife or husband, or brother or sister.
“Already this year we have seen a handful of attacks on crews using fireworks and it is only a matter of time before an operational firefighter is seriously injured.
“The lead up to the bonfire and Halloween period is not an excuse for recklessness and we would like to make it known that we have cameras on our fire engines and will work with our partners at West Yorkshire Police to prosecute anyone who acts aggressively towards our crews or support staff.
“Parents, if you have your suspicions that your children may be involved in such behaviour then please step in now before they end up in serious trouble with the Police.”
Chair of the Fire Authority Councillor Judith Hughes said: “We cannot understand why anyone would want to attack our crews who deliver an invaluable public service day in and day out.
“This year we have seen nationally the bravery of Fire Service personnel who risk their lives to protect people from harm.
“Bonfire Night is the busiest time of the year for the Fire Service and crews do not need the extra pressure of looking over their shoulders in case a brick or firework is being hurled at them.
“We support the recent bill to Parliament to strengthen legislation in order to deliver tougher penalties for attacks on emergency service personnel and we hope this will act as a deterrent to reckless individuals.”
Chief Superintendent Mabs Hussain, of West Yorkshire Police, said: “The emergency services are the people who head into danger when everyone else is running away and sometimes it can be forgotten that each firefighter, police officer or paramedic is also someone’s mother, father, daughter or son.
“Attacks on emergency service personnel not only put the individual themselves at risk but also the wider public, particularly if it requires the crew member to finish duty and receive medical attention.
“Unfortunately, each year around Bonfire Night we do receive reports from our fire service colleagues of attacks on firefighters. These kind of deliberate, targeted attacks will not be tolerated and we will thoroughly investigate any such offences.”
Watch Commander Phil Warden, who works at Odsal Fire Station, has been in the Service since 2003 and has experienced attacks on himself and his crew.
The most severe was when a group of 20 – 30 youths started throwing bricks and stones at the fire engine and a lump of concrete came through the side window of the fire engine and hit him in the face fracturing his nose.
Phil said: “As a result of what happened I was in hospital for two days and had to have an operation to rebuild my nose.
“I was off work for four weeks to allow me to recover from my surgery. At the time I was more frustrated than annoyed but since then I have found I have more concerns about large groups of youths which take some concentration away from operational incidents.”
The fire engine was also damaged in the incident.
Since then, Phil, 39, has also experienced rockets and missiles being thrown at himself and the fire engine.
Phil, who started his career at Stanningley Fire Station in 2003 and has worked at Bradford and Shipley stations as well as Odsal, added: “My wife worries about me every shift but we keep things like this away from the kids.”
West Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner and Chair of the Tri-Services (Police, Fire & Ambulance) Collaboration Board, Mark Burns-Williamson, said: “Emergency workers do an incredible job running towards danger as they try to keep our communities safe and feeling safe.
“I can’t condemn attacks on our firefighters, and all emergency workers, strongly enough as they are there to selflessly help our communities. I fully support the zero tolerance message to ensure those thinking of committing these despicable attacks know the consequences and consider the recklessness of their actions and that they will rightly face strong action and prosecution.”
West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue have put together a compilation of footage captured by their on-engine cameras of attacks that have taken place over a number of years across West Yorkshire. It's viewable here.