LGA: Tougher sentences needed following huge rise in attacks on firefighters

Latest government figures show that attacks on firefighters in England have surged by 66 per cent in four years, from 578 in 2014/15 to 961 in 2018/19. The number of firefighters injured following attacks during this period have soared by 175 per cent, from 24 to 66.


Firemen from back

Tougher sentences are needed to help tackle a “sickening” rise in attacks on fire crews, the Local Government Association urges today.

Latest government figures show that attacks on firefighters in England have surged by 66 per cent in four years, from 578 in 2014/15 to 961 in 2018/19. The number of firefighters injured following attacks during this period have soared by 175 per cent, from 24 to 66.

The attacks, which have increased during lockdown in some areas, put firefighters at risk of serious injury, can stop them attending an emergency where lives may be at risk, and can cause a vehicle to be withdrawn from service.

Attacks on emergency workers became a specific crime in 2018, but only 17 per cent of the 9,000 offenders who have since been sentenced for this offence have received an immediate jail term, according to the National Fire Chiefs Council.

The LGA, which represents councils and fire and rescue authorities in England, is calling for tougher sentences for attacks on firefighters. It says the current maximum sentence of a year’s imprisonment should be increased to reflect the seriousness of the offence.

Attacks on firefighters include harassment, verbal and physical abuse, and objects - such as bricks, stones and fireworks - thrown at firefighters and fire engines. Eight firefighters required hospital treatment following assaults in 2018/19.

Typical incidents include drunk people assaulting firefighters on Friday and Saturday nights, and ambushes being set up on housing estates, leading to fire crews having missiles thrown at them upon arrival. More serious incidents involve firefighters being attacked with weapons.

Cllr Ian Stephens, Chair of the LGA’s Fire Services Management Committee, said:

“It’s completely unacceptable for emergency service workers to be subject to attacks, aggression or acts of vandalism while protecting the public. The rising trend in violence towards firefighters is sickening.

"Our firefighters, like all emergency service workers, do a fantastic job in protecting our local communities and saving lives and should deserve our completely respect.

"The senseless violent actions of a minority of people puts firefighters at risk of injury or even worse and can also stop them from attending an emergency where lives may be at risk.

“Firefighters deserve complete protection. Increasing the maximum sentence for assaults on firefighters will show that these attacks will not be tolerated.”

Case studies

  • A tree trunk was hurled through the windscreen of a fire engine and bricks aimed at fire crews from Cleveland Fire Brigade as they tackled a garden blaze that threatened to spread to other properties.
  • A firefighter for Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service was injured after fireworks were aimed at him and a colleague by a group of 15 young people as they tackled a bonfire in Crumpsall Park. A firework became lodged under the back of his helmet, burning his hair and right ear.
  • A firefighter for East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service needed hospital treatment after being hit in the head by a stone thrown at him during a 999 call. Pebbles and planks of wood were hurled at crews as they tackled a tree fire in Eastbourne.

Notes to the editor

  1. Government figures on attacks on firefighters in England (Table FIRE0510).
  2. In 2018 the maximum prison term for assaulting emergency service workers was doubled from six months to a year.
  3. The LGA represents more than 330 councils of all types and 44 fire authorities across England. We work on behalf of our members to support, promote and improve local government.
  4. It is councils who had led communities through the COVID-19 crisis. Our recent polling shows that 71 per cent of residents trust their council and three quarters are satisfied with the way their local council runs things in their area. Our new discussion paper - Re-thinking Local - sets out how councils must now be empowered to locally-lead the COVID-19 recovery and tackle the economic, environmental and community challenges that we will face as a result of the pandemic.