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ATTACKS on firefighters have soared to almost 1,000 a year, figures revealed yesterday, as their union warned that hundreds of job losses have left services struggling to cope.
In the past year, police recorded 933 incidents that involved a physical attack on firefighters in England, an increase of 194 on the previous 12 months.
This sharp rise is the highest recorded level of violence against firefighters since the government started recording the data in 2010.
Recruitment statistics released by the government also showed that there are nearly 500 fewer firefighters on the job than at the same time last year.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) argues that the Conservative government’s dismissive attitude towards the fire service has prevented proper recruitment and retention of front-line staff and other professionals.
It warns that the lack of available workers is having a notable impact on the fire service’s ability to deal with call-outs.
Statistics show that firefighters now take 30 seconds longer to reach emergency situations than in 2010.
FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “In a serious fire, 30 seconds can be the difference between life and death.
“This weekend, families up and down the country will enjoy firework displays, yet there are fewer firefighters to keep people safe.
“This has led the FBU to issue a safety warning to all revellers attending bonfire nights to warn them that they must take the extra step in ensuring their own safety.”
Firefighters are covered by new legislation which seeks to fast-track prosecutions for attacks on emergency workers and double the maximum prison sentence from six to 12 months.
Under the law, courts must consider the strongest penalties for those who assault firefighters and other emergency service workers.
However, Mr Wrack said that government cuts will inevitably mean a failure to tackle the root causes of violence.
Mr Wrack said: “It’s despicable that anyone would attack firefighters, these are professionals who are committed to keeping our communities safe.
“But cuts by this government have led to the demolition of community engagement projects, which are proven to reduce anti-social behaviour. Investment in these services is urgently needed across the board.”
Mr Wrack also criticised the “dismal” government budget, which did not include a guarantee in funding that could remove combustible cladding from schools, hospitals and care homes.
He said: “Last week, the Chancellor announced the biggest spending spree this Tory government has been on, yet not a penny will be seen by the fire and rescue services which need it.”
The figures come after firefighters were pelted with fireworks, eggs and other missiles as they responded to a house fire on Halloween.
South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue (SYFR) said the blaze in the Tinsley area of Sheffield was caused when a firework was deliberately thrown into the terraced house at around 8pm on Wednesday.
SYFR area manager Tony Carlin said: “We are absolutely appalled that our firefighters appear to have been targeted in this way.
“Attacks like this place the safety of our firefighters – and the people they are trying to protect – at risk.
“Thankfully, this type of incident is extremely rare in South Yorkshire and it is only a tiny minority of people who would ever consider acting in such an irresponsible and dangerous way.
“However, even one attack on a firefighter is completely unacceptable and we will work alongside the police to fully investigate any attacks and ensure that those responsible are brought to justice.”
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