14 April 2005

Daily Ireland

Crews under fire

The British government was yesterday accused of underplaying more than 1,000 attacks on the North’s firefighters during the past three years.
Bricks, bottles and missiles are thrown at fire crews even as they fight fires and ambushes have also been set for firefighters, according to new research carried out for the Fire Brigade’s Union (FBU).
Other attacks include scaffolding poles being thrown through windscreens of fire engines, crews being attacked with concrete blocks, bricks and bottles, being shot at, spat at, equipment tampered with or stolen, direct physical assaults on fire crews, and equipment being urinated on.
The research also found there are 40 attacks on fire crews in the North and in Britain every week and the problem is getting worse.
The FBU claims that under-reporting of attacks means that the figure could be as much as three times higher.
Official figures from the North reveal there were 1,200 attacks on crews in the last three years, with serious concerns that the problem is being underplayed.
Jim Barbour, NI FBU representative, hit out at the North’s Health and Public Safety Minister, Angela Smith for lacking the commitment to resolve the problem.
“This research is clear evidence that the attacks on firefighters is a very serious problem, not just in Northern Ireland, but across the UK,” he said. “The research also shows that senior management, the British government and the media are brushing this serious issue under the carpet. A young boy died in Scotland during an attack on a fire crew a few weeks ago but that was underplayed by the press.”
“The FBU carried out this research to highlight the true extent of the problem across the UK, given the ineptitude of Direct Rule Ministers in Northern Ireland,” said Jim Barbour.
“We need more than crocodile tears from Angela Smyth to solve this problem and I think it’s an absolute disgrace the FBU had to pay for its own research to highlight the issue.”
FBU general secretary Andy Gilchrist said the number and ferocity of the attacks on firefighters appears to be getting worse.
“These attacks are inexcusable and must not be tolerated. It can never be part of anyone’s job to get a brick or bottle in the head or to be spat at. The causes appear complex and we need more than knee-jerk reaction headlines calling for ‘crackdowns’. There is no quick-fix solution but we need to start with a properly resourced, national strategy rather than it being left to cash-strapped local fire services,” Mr Gilchrist said.
However, Angela Smith has described the accusations that the British government is playing down the number of attacks on firefighters as “blatantly untrue”.
She urged firefighters to make sure all attacks were brought to the attention of the authorities.
“If that is the case, I really would urge those firefighters who report the cases to make sure that the reports are accurate, because the report themselves come from firefighters out on the ground.
“They report them to headquarters and I get the figures from them.”

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