Attacks on firefighters and emergency service responders put communities at risk

Bonfire Night is the busiest night of the year for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.
Bonfire Night is the busiest night of the year for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.

Attacks on Scotland’s firefighters during Bonfire Night could be putting communities at risk, warns a senior fire officer.

Crews across Scotland were attacked on 13 reported occasions on November 5, 2018.

Assistant Chief Officer John Dickie, Director of Response and Resilience.

Assistant Chief Officer John Dickie, Director of Response and Resilience.

Firefighters were targeted by missiles and fireworks – and firefighters were pulled back from entering some areas without a Police Scotland escort.

Now, as the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service approaches its busiest night of the year, one of the country’s top firefighters has appealed to communities to help stamp out the behaviour.

Firefighters across the country responded to more than 330 deliberate fires and illegal bonfires on Bonfire Night, 2018 - while Operations Control dealt with more than 720 calls.

Assistant Chief Officer John Dickie is the SFRS’s Director of Response and Resilience.

He said: “Our firefighters’ main purpose is to save lives. You can rest assured that they will always be there to help at times of emergency.

“But every time we hear that our friends and colleagues have been attacked, our hearts sink.

“Not only are we concerned for their welfare, but also that of the community.

“When we pull back our crews to ensure their safety, our ability to respond to an emergency is inevitably delayed, and an illegal bonfire can quickly spiral out of control.

“But be left in absolutely no doubt that it is often down to a very small minority of individuals within those communities.”

ACO Dickie added: “This can’t be tolerated, and across Scotland we are working closer than ever with our Police Scotland colleagues ahead of Bonfire Night to ensure that we are able to respond appropriately in the areas that we know will be problematic.

“Attacking any emergency responder is a criminal action, and we will work to ensure that those responsible are identified and held to account.”

SFRS last year launched its #DoNotAttackMe campaign – a direct appeal from firefighters and their families for an end to attacks on crews.

The wide-ranging campaign was debated in the Scottish Parliament days later and generated cross-party discussions in the chamber – not only on firefighters being subjected to physical and verbal assault, but all emergency service workers.

Speaking at the time from the Scottish Parliament, Community Safety Minister Ash Denham said: “It’s incomprehensible that a minority of individuals would chose to attack our emergency services, and I welcome the unity in this debate to condemn this behaviour.

“The Scottish Government does not and will not tolerate any such attacks on emergency services staff.”

However, despite a high profile national campaign and the support of politicians and partners, several attacks on firefighters still took place.

This included a fire appliance being damaged by thrown missiles, while police had to escort crews to extinguish fires. Thankfully, no injuries were sustained by firefighters.

But ACO Dickie said: “This type of behaviour not only prevents our crews from bringing any emergency to a safe and swift conclusion but it can impact on our emergency service colleagues including the police when they have to escort us at the scene.

“The communities of Scotland are all fantastic – they greatly appreciate the work of the fire and rescue service and we would urge most of law abiding residents to alert the police to any illegal activity.”

He also told how firefighters continue to serve at the very heart of their communities as role models. They also support the most vulnerable people to stay safe at home.

ACO Dickie said: “We do everything we can to protect communities and that includes our Home Fire Safety Visits where we will visit properties and install or check smoke detectors as well as provide general safety advice to residents.

“Additionally, in the run-up to Bonfire Night, we are working at the very heart of our communities to help keep people safe.

“Firefighters are working hard to keep elderly and vulnerable people safe and our firefighters go to great lengths to work with young people, visiting schools and educating people of all ages to the dangers of bonfires and fireworks.

“Our advice here is simple – attend an organised display where possible, and follow the firework safety code if you do plan on having your own display.

To report incidents contact Police Scotland on 101 or alternatively call Crimestoppers helpline on 0800 555 111.

For information on firework safety and organised public displays, visit Bonfire Night safety