Carl Sargeant, Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children
Members will be aware of recent attacks on our fire crews, especially over the Bonfire Night weekend. Thankfully no-one was injured; but any such attacks are wholly unacceptable. I join the Fire and Rescue Authorities (FRAs) and the Police in condemning those responsible.
Some of these attacks happen when fire fighters are responding to emergency calls. They prevent firefighters from responding quickly and effectively to often life threatening incidents and puts communities and firefighters’ lives at risk. Firefighters play a crucial role in reducing risk in our communities and responding to emergencies, not just fire related emergencies, but they are often first on scene at serious incidents, such as cardiac arrest, severe bleeding or choking. They will work to preserve life until the arrival of a paramedic; early intervention is crucial to improving a patient’s chance of survival. Even a simple obstruction of their work in these cases can be fatal. People who prevent firefighters from undertaking their duties should be aware that there may not only be a human cost, but it can also mean a fine of up to £5,000 – with further and stiffer penalties if injuries to firefighters are caused.
Attacks on firefighters, whether they are verbal or physical, are irresponsible, dangerous and criminal. I was pleased to hear some recent perpetrators in the South Wales area were arrested and appropriately dealt with by the Police. South Wales FRA is also working closely with the Police to provide CCTV footage to identify further perpetrators.
We and our partners monitor the number and nature of attacks on firefighters. In 2009-10 there were 64 reported attacks on firefighters. This reduced to 20 in 2015-16, a fall of over two thirds. This reflects the FRAs’ successful preventative and intervention work across Wales to reduce incidents of anti-social behaviour, deliberate fire-setting and hoax calls. Nonetheless, one incident is too many, so it is essential work to further reduce them continues.
Several initiatives developed by the FRAs in Wales have helped reduce attacks on fire crews over the years. These include the installation of CCTV on fire appliances. This, as well as improved collaboration between the FRAs, Police and others, has seen many of the perpetrators brought to justice.
We also fund the FRAs to develop and deliver bespoke youth intervention programmes aimed at reducing arson and anti-social behaviour. One such programme is Phoenix, which is aimed at young people aged 13-17 who have offended or are at risk or doing so. It addresses issues ranging from low self esteem and lack of confidence to anti-social behaviour and fire related problems, such as deliberate fire setting and hoax calls. In doing so, it uses firefighters as role models – and so builds respect for them and for others. It is highly successful, with a reoffending rate of less than 5 per cent. I plan to attend a Phoenix course in the near future to witness the good work it delivers.
I am sure Members will condemn such actions that put our emergency services staff at risk, but also risk injury or worse to people in our communities.