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“Abusive behaviour towards firefighters must stop” urges LFB Deputy Commissioner

21 October 2022

THE LONDON Fire Brigade’s new Deputy Commissioner Jonathan Smith is calling for an end to the abuse that’s aimed at members of staff as new figures show firefighters and Control Room officers are increasingly subjected to regular episodes of offensive behaviour.

New data from the London Fire Brigade, released on Emergency Services Day 2022, shows that there have been more than 870 reports of physical and verbal assaults against members of staff from 2020 to date. That’s a rise of more than 8% on the previous three years. There were 801 incidents from 2017 to 2019.

Last year alone, there were weekly reports of abuse towards firefighters and Control Room staff, with 353 incidents in total reported during the year.

So far in 2022, there have been 69 occasions when crews have been physically or verbally abused, including a spike in July, when firefighters were dealing with one of the busiest periods in the Brigade’s history during the summer heatwaves.

Control Room officers have also dealt with more than 140 abusive phone calls so far in 2022, with abuse of such staff reaching a five-year high last year when 248 separate incidents were recorded (ie almost 50 more calls than were received in each of the previous four years).

Shocking statistics

As the London Fire Brigade’s new Deputy Commissioner for preparedness and response, Jonathan Smith has branded the figures “shocking” and affirmed his view that any attack on an Emergency Services worker is “abhorrent”.

Further, Smith has called for an end to abusive behaviour against Fire and Rescue Service staff and their blue lights colleagues and emphasises that the London Fire Brigade will not hesitate to take action and support the police in order to bring criminal charges against any perpetrators.

“It’s always disheartening to hear when a member of staff has been abused while doing their job,” noted Smith. “Any attack on an Emergency Services worker is abhorrent. whether it’s physical or verbal in nature. These people dedicate their lives to saving and protecting others. It’s appalling whenever they’re hampered in doing so by aggressive members of the public.”

Physical assaults

Earlier this month, a firefighter was bitten by a resident while attending a fire in Bermondsey. A 45-year-old man was subsequently arrested on suspicion of arson and on suspicion of assaulting an Emergency Services worker.

Last month, firefighters were assaulted and threatened by a man after being called to a bonfire in Thornton Heath. Fortunately, none of them were injured, but the crew members had to call the police for back-up as the situation escalated. A 26-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of assaulting an Emergency Services worker and has been bailed pending further inquiries.

Earlier this year, a crew of firefighters was threatened with a knife and spat on in Tottenham. In 2021, a firefighter was attacked while attending a fire at a block of flats, also located in Thornton Heath. Had it not been for the firefighter’s protective helmet, he would have sustained serious head injuries.

Thousands of attacks

Firefighters are not usually on the receiving end of as much violent behaviour as their colleagues in the police service and the ambulance service who, sadly, face thousands of physical and verbal attacks each year.

Deputy Commissioner Smith concluded: “We take all attacks on our staff incredibly seriously and we strongly support the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018, which increases the sentencing guidelines for such attacks. If staff are on the receiving end of abuse, they are always supported by their manager and, if required, our counselling and trauma team.”