Spit, bricks and stiletto attacks – tide of violence against Sunderland rescue crews

Sunderland fire fighters and paramedics in action
Sunderland fire fighters and paramedics in action
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A DRUNK patient armed with a six-inch stiletto heel left a paramedic injured during a shocking attack.

The Echo can reveal today that emergency crews in Sunderland are facing violence and abuse on a weekly basis as they try to save lives.

In the past three years, 160 police officers, firefighters and paramedics have been attacked while carrying out their duties in the city.

Crews from Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service have been spat on, had bricks hurled at their heads and their vehicles damaged while out on call.

In one case, a group of marauding yobs threw missiles as they taunted officers while setting a wheelie bin on fire.

Paramedics in the city are facing similar abuse.

One ambulance worker suffered a cut, bruising and swelling during the stiletto heel attack by the drunk patient, while another was grabbed around the neck and throttled as he tried to help.

Crews say they often have to deal with patients who lash out because they are under the influence of drugs.

David Edwards, North East Ambulance Service’s security manager, said: “It’s completely unacceptable for anyone to direct violence or abuse towards an ambulance crew who, at the end of the day, are just doing their job.

“The nature of the job means that our staff are sometimes placed in situations where emotions are running high, or patients are under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

“Historically, some ambulance staff would accept abuse or the threat of violence from some patients as being part of the job. It’s not.

“We have a zero-tolerance policy towards any incident of this kind and actively encourage and support our staff with bringing such matters to the attention of the police.

“We now have CCTV cameras in 51 A&E front-line ambulances – half of our fleet. That means if someone does behave aggressively towards one of our paramedics, the chances are it will be caught on film and used as part of any subsequent prosecution.

“It’s sad that we have to take such steps, but the behaviour of a minority of people who come into contact with our crews means it is necessary.”

Sunderland paramedics were assaulted 20 times in 2010, 19 in 2011 and five times last year.

Across the North East in 2011/12, there were 87 physical assaults on paramedics, 175 non-physical assaults and 41 criminal sanctions against offenders.

Firefighters in the city are more likely to have bricks and stones thrown at them than be verbally abused, according to the latest figures.

Sunderland crews reported 30 incidents in the last three years where they have been targets of missile -hurling yobs; 13 times in 2010, 10 in 2011 and seven times last year.

John Hall, Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service’s district manager for Sunderland, said: “We actively encourage all our officers to report any such attacks.

“There is now CCTV attached to our engines and we also have spit kits, which means we can take samples that can be used for prosecution purposes.

“We want any groups of young people involved in these type of incidents to know they are not acceptable and the service will take action where necessary.”

Attacks on police officers have fallen during the past three years.

There were 54 attacks in 2010, which fell to six in 2012. However, police in the city say one assault is one too many.

Superintendent Jim Napier, of Sunderland Area Command, said: “It’s encouraging to see the number of assaults on police officers is falling, however, one assault is one too many and completely unacceptable.

“We will continue to take a tough stance on anyone who assaults an officer when they are working to protect the public that they serve and make sure offenders are put brought to justice.”

Twitter: @craigjourno