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NFCC calls for firefighters to use body-worn cameras in wake of “mindless” attacks

24 November 2020

THE NATIONAL Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) is calling for front line personnel across all UK Fire and Rescue Services to use body-worn cameras following on from what the organisation describes as a spate of “mindless” attacks on operational fire crews.

In a video shared on the NFCC’s social media channels, various crew members reveal shocking first-hand stories and footage of firefighters being pelted with fireworks and verbally abused by members of the public.

Between 2015 and this year, there have been upwards of 3,800 attacks on firefighters. In 2019-2020 alone, around 950 attacks were recorded in England and Scotland. That’s not taking into account this year’s Bonfire Night period that itself witnessed a sharp rise in the volume and severity of attacks, with fireworks, stones and bricks being thrown at fire crews. Such attacks risk impacting the mental and physical health of firefighters.

In some areas of the country, firefighters can no longer attend certain types of fires unless they have a police escort. The NFCC has warned that such fires can escalate quickly into large-scale blazes, putting properties and lives at risk.

Chris Lowther, chair of the NFCC’s Operations Committee and chief fire officer for Tyne and Wear, commented: “I’m disgusted that firefighters are being attacked when trying to protect the communities they serve and, ultimately, save lives. We need to see custodial sentences handed out. It’s clear that we need a deterrent which makes people think twice.”

Lowther continued: “These mindless attacks are abhorrent. If one or two members of staff are injured on a shift, this can result in fire appliances having to be taken off the road while other members of staff are called in. This leaves communities at risk if there’s a major incident.”

Lowther features on the video along with NFCC chair Roy Wilsher who also insists that the attacks must stop. “I know that chief fire officers in every UK Fire and Rescue Service care about the health and well-being of all firefighters, It’s something each and every one of them takes very seriously. I would urge them to think about body-worn camera technology to help to protect their crews. The cameras can be a superb operational aid when it comes to debriefing incidents. They can also record assaults and bring those attacking firefighters to justice.”

On that last point, Wilsher observed: “While jail sentences for attacks on fire crews have been increased from 12 to 24 months, we now need to see these imposed to send a clear message. Emergency Services staff must be treated with the respect they deserve. The blue light services are here to keep people safe.”

Mass vaccination roll-out

The NFCC is fully supportive of firefighters assisting with the roll-out of a COVID-19 vaccination programme. Phil Garrigan, the NFCC’s COVID lead, has spoken to Sky News about how Fire and Rescue Services could support the roll-out.

According to reports, the Department of Health and Social Care will be asking retired healthcare professionals and workers with First Aid skills – such as firefighters – to help deliver and administer the vaccines. This is on the back of a consultation carried out by the Government to support the roll-out of COVID-19 and flu vaccinations. This will allow a wider range of people to be able to administer the vaccinations in the wake of the necessary training.

With almost 23,000 whole-time firefighters across England alone, there’s a real opportunity for Fire and Rescue Services to play a key role in helping to deliver and administer vaccinations across the nation. There are an additional 12,498 on-call firefighters.

According to the consultation, there would be a new national protocol which will allow people who are not registered healthcare professionals to safely administer a COVID-19 or influenza vaccine.

Roy Wilsher informed Fire Safety Matters: “The NFCC is hugely supportive of Fire and Rescue Services helping to roll out a vaccination programme across the UK. There are thousands of firefighters who are ready, willing and able to take on more in the fight against COVID-19. Firefighters cover the entire country. They’re well placed to assist with this vital activity and reduce the devastating ongoing impacts of the pandemic.”

The NFCC has made it clear the Health and Safety of all Fire and Rescue Service staff is paramount for every chief fire officer, all of whom take this duty of care very seriously indeed. Firefighters would not be asked to fulfil such a task until the correct training and risk assessments have been put in place.

To date, Fire and Rescue Services have delivered 111,000 essential items to the most vulnerable people in society, assembled 68,135 single-use face masks, transacted 25,000 deliveries of specialist PPE, fitted 4,135 face masks for front line NHS and other clinical care staff, trained members of staff to drive ambulances, packed no less than 22,500 food parcels, assisted with taking upwards of 1,000 antigen samples, transported 1,446 COVID patients (as well as 3,337 non-COVID patients) to hospital and helped with the movement of more than 2,000 bodies.