Arson and attacks on firefighters in Sunderland see police and fire chiefs working together to stamp out problems

Fire brigade chiefs have stressed they are working with police to tackle arson and attacks on firefighters after concerns were raised over a number of incidents in Sunderland.

By Nic Marko
Saturday, 16th July 2022, 11:39 am

Cllr John Usher, Redhill representative on Sunderland City Council, raised concerns there has been a “significant increase” in deliberate secondary fires, such as those involving grassland or waste, in his ward in areas such as Bunny Hill.

He also voiced worries over firefighters being attacked in Farringdon, including one incident which involved a “breeze block” being thrown, and questioned if the fire service was getting support from the police.

The comments came at a Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority Policy and Performance Committee, where organisation bosses pledged they are working with police, councils and more to tackle such incidents.

Northumbria Police and Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service are working together.

Peter Heath, deputy chief fire officer, also reported there was a further attack on firefighters in the Farringdon area earlier this week “again as a result of youths throwing stones.”

He said: “We are well supported by Northumbria Police. They are stretched, like every other service.

“We enjoy a really productive relationship with them and they are very supportive of the work, and suffer like many other emergency services and blue light services of the same abuse.

“We are working with them, when we identify individuals we want to actually try and engage with them.”

Brigade chiefs added they are working with police and reviewing CCTV footage from the incident earlier this week, where there were “fortunately no injuries”.

It was also outlined how the fire brigade works with partners to carry out numerous activities to help reduce antisocial behaviour incidents such as deliberate secondary fires, including those involving waste and grassland.

This includes having a youth engagement officer, being involved in the ‘Lighter Nights’ campaign, getting young people to play football and clearing rubbish which could potentially attract fire starters.

Deputy chief fire officer Mr Heath said: “A lot of the secondary fires are antisocial behaviour events, they contribute towards antisocial behaviour.

“It’s alarming, it’s an area of focus for us, it’s something that through our strategic team and the team on the ground we are focused on trying to work out, but we can’t solve it on our own.”

It comes after figures for across Tyne and Wear in 2021/22 showed there were 5,404 deliberate secondary fires, a rise of 48% and 1742 incidents from the previous year.

Both fire officers and councillors noted this marked an “alarming rise”, however highlighted how figures for previous years would have been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns.

Reports to the meeting noted the increase in deliberate secondary fires could be impacted by UK Government restrictions placed on local authorities to close their waste management and recycling facilities during the pandemic.

They added this could therefore have led to an increase in fly-tipping of refuse, which was subsequently used to start fires.

However It was stressed various multi-agency initiatives are in place to help tackle such issues, which were recorded across all the fire authority districts.