We must better protect our emergency service workers
Shadow Minister Holly Lynch writes following a shift on patrol with West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service to see the challenges they face throughout the year, especially on Bonfire Night.
On Saturday night, I joined West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service to see what it’s like on the front-line, on what was expected to be the busiest night of the Bonfire period.
I was attached to Bradford fire station, not far from my Halifax constituency and Judith Cummings MP was attached to the station at Odsal in her Bradford South constituency.
Last year, there were 19 attacks on West Yorkshire Fire crews on Bonfire night alone, a fact which I have raised in the chamber in Westminster on several occasions as part of my ‘Protect The Protectors’ campaign.
It is unacceptable that 999 responders, putting their lives on the line are subject to assaults and attacks on what is the busiest night of the year, and having spent time with Police officers, Firefighters and Paramedics since becoming an MP, it is sadly not an issue limited to just bonfire night.
The new ‘Protect The Protectors’ bill would introduce laws that create a new offence of Assaulting an Emergency Service Worker with tougher sentencing. It would also introduce new measures to clamp down on spitting which mean that anyone who spits at a 999 responder or NHS worker would have to provide a blood sample to determine if they have any communicable diseases which could be life changing for the emergency service worker on the receiving end.
Whilst I was incredibly impressed by just how effective and integrated the partnership working was between the emergency services across West Yorkshire over the weekend, I was also surprised and saddened to see that almost every fire appliance or fire car deployed on Saturday night required a police escort.
I was attached to a fire car which was actually a Police vehicle, with a Police driver, a sergeant from the neighbourhood policing team for that area, and a watch manager from the fire service. The fire cars respond to 999 calls to assess fires to establish if they required further intervention and a fire engine to attend the scene.
On most occasions, some friendly advice and guidance from the Police Officer and Firefighter was enough to ensure that a bonfire could continue safely, and was welcome from the public, saving a full fire appliance being deployed to the seen.
However there were also incidents of bin fires, unattended bonfires, irresponsible use of fireworks, and one incident we attended where a caravan had been set alight close to a number of residential properties.
With the exception of one rather intoxicated adult male, who upon our arrival at a bonfire which had been reported to 999, was keen to confront the Police Officer to tell him he should be out catching burglars instead, we all finished the shift having avoided too much trouble.
The crews of one of the fire appliances based at Bradford however has been subject to an attack and had fireworks aimed at them exploding inches away from where they were working. Other fire cars, including the vehicle Judith Cummins MP was accompanying, also had missiles and fireworks thrown at it.
Sadly on Bonfire night itself the following evening, there were 15 attacks on the emergency services responding to calls. Disgracefully, at least 2 of those involved deliberately luring 999 responders to a fire, only to attack them upon arrival.
Over the course of the weekend in West Yorkshire there were in the region of 18 attacks on Police Officers and Firefighters and this has to stop.
As MPs, were are elected by the public to make the laws, and we ask our emergency services to uphold those laws and protect the public. To attack an emergency service worker is to show a complete disregard for law and order and that must be reflected in the laws which protect them.
Chris Bryant’s Private Members Bill will do just that, having passed its second reading in October and the committee stage starting on 15th November, I hope that these new measures will be in place by bonfire night next year so that our brave emergency service workers, do not have to face the same dangers year after year.
Holly Lynch is the Shadow Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs & Flooding and Coastal Communities. She is the Labour MP for Halifax
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