'Cowardly' attacks on firefighters condemned, with calls for strong action against those responsible

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Fire authority chiefs have hit out at recent “cowardly” attacks on firefighters across Tyne and Wear and called for strong action against those found responsible.

Abuse faced by Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service staff has been brought up as a key issue to tackle at several recent authority meetings.

It comes after chief fire officer Chris Lowther reported how crews suffered “some of the worst attacks” he’s known in his 26 year career in an incident in West Denton, Newcastle on Saturday, January 14.

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In a tweet, he claimed the firefighters had been “barricaded in an area where a car was deliberately set on fire and had petrol bombs thrown at them”.

A file image of firefighters training.A file image of firefighters training.
A file image of firefighters training.

At the most recent meeting of Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority on Monday, February 13, councillors hit out at the actions of those responsible.

Sunderland Councillor Phil Tye, chair of the fire authority, labelled it a “cowardly attack”.

He added: “Absolutely under no circumstances can that ever be acceptable and I just want to send our thoughts to those who had to experience that attack.”

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Councillor Ged Bell, a Newcastle City Council representative on the fire authority, called for the justice system to strongly punish anyone guilty of assaulting emergency service workers.

He said: “It’s not just that area unfortunately, of the city or of the authority area, where firefighters and emergency services staff come under attack.

“To have that on your mind when you’re already trying to attend a high stress situation where there may be life at risk and then be worried about your own life.

“Then let’s not forget the families of the firefighters who are also worried each and every time they go on duty.

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“The consequences of such actions are untold and unimaginable for some people, but we’ve got to ensure we take the utmost action on these individuals when they’ve been caught and been through the courts.”

Several councillors echoed how they should be lobbying MPs in the region to ensure offenders are punished accordingly through the judicial system.

Attacks on firefighters was also a key topic at the authority’s policy and performance committee on Monday (February 20).

Statistics presented to councillors stated there had been 61 attacks on Tyne and Wear firefighters from April 1 to December 31, an increase on the 55 recorded during the same period the previous year.

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The 61 incidents included 41 instances of objects being thrown at firefighters and/or appliances, 18 cases of verbal abuse and two physical attacks.

Fire brigade officers noted the latest figures showed 24 of these incidents were in the Denton and Westerhope ward, where January’s attack also occurred, a large rise from the three recorded the previous year.

They added since that incident they have been doing a great deal of multi-agency work with police, while they have also liaised with schools in the area to carry out presentations warning of the dangers of such abuse.

The committee heard this positive work has had the “desired impact” with a large drop in the number of incidents since due to “good partnership” working.

Gateshead’s Councillor Kevin Dodds, chair of the committee, noted attacks on firefighters is an issue they would continue to monitor, stating that even “one is too many”.