Emergency services in firing line

One of the many confrontations in Blackpool between drinkers and police,  and how we have higlighted the problem in The Gazette. Pictured below is acting Chf Insp Laura Lawler.
One of the many confrontations in Blackpool between drinkers and police, and how we have higlighted the problem in The Gazette. Pictured below is acting Chf Insp Laura Lawler.
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They are the dedicated paramedics, firefighters and police officers who are trying to save lives and protect the most vulnerable people in our communities.

But they are also victims of horrendous attacks – by the very people they are trying to help.

The Gazette is today revealing the shocking scale of assaults on Blackpool’s army of dedicated emergency services.

Fire, ambulance and police chiefs have shared the harrowing details of the attacks their staff are being subjected to, after around 400 workers were assaulted over the last three years.

And they warned the official figures do not reflect the full picture, with many staff facing a daily barrage of verbal abuse and assaults which are never reported.

The figures – released after a Freedom of Information request by The Gazette – show police have been attacked by offenders as young as 12, with one officer being knocked unconscious by a teenager.

One paramedic was sexually assaulted by a man she tried to treat while other workers have been punched, bitten, spat on and sworn at.

It comes eight years after The Gazette launched its Respect campaign in a bid to protect the emergency services, which was praised by the then Prime Minister Tony Blair.

In the last three years, from January 2010, there were 348 assaults on police officers across Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre, and while only six offences caused a “serious” injury and 92 resulted in minor injuries, acting Chief Insp Laura Lawler said the impact on her staff can be devastating.

She said: “It’s not something we should have to expect but it’s obviously something we do deal with.

“Police assaults have gone up slightly over the last few years and it’s not just a police issue, it could be about resisting authority or a lack of respect and a lot of the time it is alcohol and drug related where people are not thinking reasonably. Officers go out with protective body armour, they have batons and spray and individual officers are trained to use Tasers, but you don’t know what you are going to face.

“One of our police women was knocked unconscious by a 13-year-old girl after she went downstairs to the inquiry desk to see her – you just don’t know how somebody is going to react.

“Everything we go to we have to think of our safety, the public’s safety and the safety of the individual we are dealing with.”

There were 123 assaults on police officers in 2010, 107 the following year and 118 in 2012.

And Chief Insp Lawler said even though some of the injuries sustained by her staff were only minor – such as a broken finger or sprained ligament – they could take them off the front line and put them onto restricted duties for two or three months.

The details obtained by The Gazette show 14 offenders were under the age of 16.

The youngest was a 12-year-old-girl who received a warning after assaulting an officer on Clifton Drive South, St Annes, in September last year, and her 14-year-old female accomplice was charged.

And it’s not just police officers who are having to run a daily gauntlet of fear.

Dave Rigby, sector manager at Blackpool for the North West Ambulance Service, said his crews feel they are being subjected to so many verbal assaults they do not report them all.

The official figures show there were 34 assaults between January 2010 and December 2012, but Mr Rigby said the statistics do not tell the whole story.

He said: “There are a number of verbal assaults and sometimes minor physical assaults (staff) don’t report, that’s the sad thing. Although we train crews they don’t expect to be assaulted.

“Some are traumatised and fearful afterwards because they are only trying to help these people.

“They are going to help somebody who is injured and with some of the younger staff we have to explain to them it’s not personal.

“They are going to treat someone yet these people feel they are eligible to spit at them, punch them and we get a lot of verbal abuse from people who treat crews with complete disrespect.

“These kind of assaults aren’t reported because some crews tell me it’s every shift.”

One incident happened outside a pub on Market Street, central Blackpool, when a man was cautioned after a sexual assault when he touched a female paramedic as she tried to treat him.

And Mr Rigby described two recent assaults which – although they had not physically injured staff – had caused distress and led to vital ambulances being taken off the road.

He said: “We picked up a patient from the Fleetwood area and as they have been travelling to hospital she became agitated and tried to get off the moving ambulance. The crews have done all they can to try and stop her and it has resulted in the female biting the ambulance paramedic with quite some force.

“Although it didn’t puncture the skin it went through his outer and inner jacket.

“Another one of our female crew members was assaulted by a female who has punched her and sustained nearly £200 of damage to the vehicle, which was off the road for four hours.

“I do believe the general populous of the public still hold ambulance crews with high regard and respect, it’s a small minority who are showing no respect to us.”

The statistics show just one firefighter has been physically attacked - a punch in the face at an emergency back in 2011 - but there have been 10 incidents of verbal abuse and two of objects being thrown - including eggs being hurled at a Bispham fire engine - over the last three years.

Simon Bone, group manager for Western area, said: “I think there may well be a number of incidents that go unreported, particularly verbal abuse. But no emergency service worker would expect to have verbal abuse thrown at them or be attacked physically while carrying out their role and it is something the Fire and Rescue Service deal with in a robust manner.”

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