Published 17 January 2023

Attacks on firefighters are at their highest since records began

NFCC Logo image

Attacks on firefighters are at their highest since records began – and Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service saw the worst attacks it has ever seen over the weekend.  The National Fire Chiefs Council wants to see stronger sentences handed down by the courts – where restorative justice has not worked.

According to the latest Home Office figures, almost one thousand firefighters were attacked while attending incidents.  

To see attacks is abhorrent; firefighters are mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters – they do not deserve to be treated like this.

NFCC Operations Chair, Chris Lowther

Over the weekend crews in Tyne and Wear were called to a car fire which was a pile of rubbish which had been set alight. Firefighters were then barricaded in and shockingly attacked with petrol bombs, glass bottles and rubble. Police also came under attack when they arrived.  

Chris Lowther, NFCC’s Chair of Operations Committee and Chief Fire Officer for Tyne and Wear said:  “To see attacks is abhorrent and to see the numbers are at their highest ever is disgraceful. Firefighters are mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters – they do not deserve to be treated like this.  

“If a firefighter is injured or a fire appliance is damaged, fire services have less people and resources available. This is putting lives in danger; our blue light services are here to keep people safe. 

“I am urging everyone to treat our firefighters with respect and for parents, teachers and adults to drive this message home. Attacking a firefighter or damaging a fire engine could be the difference between our crews being able to reach a fire.”  

He has also called for the courts to hand out the maximum jail sentences available to send a clear message, where restorative justice has not worked. “Jail sentences for attacks on emergency services workers are very rare; this needs to change to send a clear message this will not be tolerated.” 

Mr Lowther spoke to BBC News about the incident.

NFCC is an advocate of body worn cameras which a number of fire and rescue services use, providing vital evidence to the courts. 

In some areas of the country, including Tyne and Wear, fire and rescue services are supported by a police escort to enable them to safely attend some types of fires.  

While 20 per cent of attacks take place around Bonfire Night, services are reporting attacks throughout the year.

Between March 2021 and April 2022, 983 incidents were reported – which is an increase of five per cent on the previous year. These resulting in 60 injuries, with some requiring a hospital stay.  

Incidents range from objects being thrown at firefighters and damaging fire vehicles, harassment, physical and verbal abuse. 

  • Home Office statistics does not provide a complete picture of attacks, as it only covers incidents attended through an emergency call.  
  • In addition, it provides a count of the number of incidents that involved an attack not the number of attacks, as more than one firefighter could have been attacked at one incident.