The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) condemns the worrying increase of 18.6% in attacks on firefighters but is very concerned at the suggestion that body-worn cameras to record evidence against offenders are the right solution.
The union, of which 85% of firefighters in the UK are members, believes that when firefighters engage with communities, this sort of anti-social behaviour reduces. With drastic cuts to firefighter numbers – there are 11,000 fewer firefighters now than there were in 2010 – there are in many instances insufficient personnel to carry out this important work. The problem is happening against a backdrop of severe cuts to a vast range of social programmes, including youth clubs, sports and arts activities. These initiatives deter young people from engaging in anti-social behaviour.
The vast majority of the attacks on fire engines, fire service equipment and firefighters themselves are relatively minor and occur in some of the most impoverished communities in the UK. These offences can however develop into more serious crimes. The FBU believes that compromising the neutrality of firefighters within these communities and turning them into virtual law-enforcers will have a significant impact on how they are perceived. It could even result in them being denied access to peoples’ homes when they badly need it, on emergency call outs for example. We cannot afford to do anything that will erode the public’s trust.
Dave Green, national officer of the FBU and a former firefighter said:
“Violent attacks on firefighters are opportunistic and thankfully rare. The vast majority of attacks are not serious, and they are usually born out of a lack of education and a lack of understanding of the neutrality of the firefighter role.
"We as the firefighters’ union favour a preventative rather than a punitive approach to this worrying problem. Firefighters wearing cameras to ‘catch criminals’ just isn’t how our members want to work – there is no evidence that this would reduce attacks. In fact, there is a fear that cameras could exacerbate attacks on firefighters.
"We would prefer to increase our engagement with young people through targeted community initiatives as a way of building lasting, positive relationships which have long term benefits for firefighters and the communities they serve. The fire service provides a humanitarian service, and it is not a law enforcement agency.”
Shadow fire minister Chris Williamson commented:
“Every day, firefighters in this country risk their lives, often exposing themselves to danger. Recent statistics that show an increase in the number of attacks on firefighters are deeply troubling.
“It is important to ensure that lessons are learned to reverse this trend. The FBU has stated that the majority of attacks on firefighters are opportunistic and carried out by young people, often occurring in areas with poor housing and few youth services. Any solution to this problem must be rooted in investment in local communities and education work. The fire and rescue service has a long history of community involvement and as such can play a central role.”