Move to tackle 'horrific' attacks on firefighters in Sunderland and South Tyneside

Steps are being taken to help reduce “horrific” attacks on firefighters across Tyne and Wear after more than 50 incidents were logged during the latest reporting period.

In total there were 53 attacks on firefighters from Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service recorded between April 1 and November 30 2021, an increase of 43% on the previous year, when 37 incidents were recorded.

There had previously been a drop in attacks on crews from 2018/19 to 2019/20, when incidents reduced from 76 to 57, and officers noted the Covid-19 restrictions likely impacted 2020/21 figures.

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The cost of the attacks to the fire and rescue service to cover absences and damage to appliances or equipment due to attacks was more than £16,000 during the latest period, fire chiefs added.

A file image of fire crews in action.

Peter Heath, deputy chief fire officer, stressed that no attack is acceptable and the vast majority of residents are respectful and supportive.

He said: “The service benefits greatly from the support of the communities and for the most part most people treat and behave in the way that we want.

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“I wouldn’t want to suggest it’s widespread, indeed the evidence would suggest that it’s limited to a few individuals who continue to repeat offend.”

The comments were made after the statistics were presented to Monday’s (February 21) Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority policy and performance committee.

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More than half of the incidents to date in 2021/22 involved objects being thrown at firefighters or appliances, accounting for 31 cases.

Of the total number of attacks, 21 of the incidents took place in the Newcastle area, while there were 15 in Sunderland, nine in North Tyneside, five in Gateshead and three in South Tyneside.

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However the service do have the third lowest number of attacks (2.4) per 1,000 incidents when compared to other metropolitan fire and rescue services.

Phil Clark, area manager for strategy and performance, said data shows a strong correlation between attacks on firefighters and incidents of deliberate secondary fires, such as those involving rubbish.

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He added that steps are being taken to try and reduce such incidents, as well as clamping down on attacks on firefighters.

He said: “There’s two prongs to the attack, reducing the number of occurrences of secondary fires, getting the rubbish off the streets, getting rid of that loose refuse.

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“But also through the diversionary activities and school education programmes, which has been difficult and challenging to gain access to through the Covid period.

“We can start re-educating people on how the fire and rescue service are there to help the community and shouldn’t be seen as adversarial.”

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It was also noted that appliance and body worn video CCTV cameras are used and can be a useful deterrent, as well as being evidence if cases are brought before the courts.

Cllr Tom Woodwark, Newcastle City Council representative on the fire authority, encouraged the positive engagement on the issue.

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He added: “This is horrific, this is absolutely completely and utterly unacceptable on every single level you can think of.

“This is actual physical violence that is taking place against people who are trying to save lives at the end of the day.”

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