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Fire crews facing no-go areas.

Byline: By Lisa Jones South Wales Echo

FIREFIGHTERS facing regular yob attacks have warned that parts of South Wales could become no-go areas.

One officer said the violence 999 staff faced was worse than he saw as a soldier in Northern Ireland.

Firefighter Alun Jenkins said: Ive served in Northern Ireland and its worse than you would see on the streets there.

Its going to reach a point where there will be no-go areas for us without a police escort.

This year, there have already been more than 20 reported attacks on Welsh firefighters. 'I have served in Northern Ireland and it's worse here than you would see on the streets there': Firefighters have warned the violence they face is now so severe it could turn parts of South Wales into no-go areas for the emergency services.

A senior firefighter told the Echo one attack on his crew, in which they were pelted with bricks, metal bolts and panes of glass, was worse than he had faced on a tour of duty with the Army in Northern Ireland.

This is despite a new law introduced seven months ago, designed to protect emergency service workers.

So far no-one has been charged under the new Emergency Workers (Obstruction) Act despite more than 20 reported attacks on Welsh firefighters already this year.

Figures released to the Echo revealed there were 24 reported attacks on firefighters between January and August this year.

But fire union chiefs say the under-reporting of attacks could put the true figure as much as three times higher.

Ely and Trowbridge in Cardiff, Merthyr Tydfil and Rhondda Cynon Taf are hot spots of trouble. There were seven attacks in the city and six each in Merthyr Tydfil and RCT this year.

One serious attack happened in Merthyr, where firefighters were ambushed when they went to deal with a late-night car fire in Cherry Grove, Gurnos.

Watch manager Alun Jenkins said: "I've served in Northern Ireland and it's worse than you would see on the streets there.

"We were called to a car fire and one of the crew said something had come over the top of us. It was a brick.

"I was telling the lads to be aware and as I did that, half a concrete block came flying over my head and smashed into the appliance.

"We had to pack up and reverse past the still-burning car to a rendezvous point.

"As we were withdrawing, there were four-inch bolts being thrown at us. Then they were throwing panes of glass at us like frisbees.

"I was absolutely horrified because if one hit below the visor of our helmets it could have caused a serious injury. It would have hit in the throat.

"I saw one man breaking up the remains of a concrete wall in order to make it small enough to throw at us.

"This was someone who was manufacturing his own ammunition. It's the first time I've seen something so premeditated. It's unfathomable."

Mr Jenkins said he believed the attacks would only get worse until someone was prosecuted for attacking firefighters.

"It's going to reach a point where there will be no-go areas for us without a police escort," he said. "It seems that anyone in a uniform is considered a target.

"The new act is very forceful but until a successful prosecution takes place I don't think the deterrent value will work."

Although crews have been given head-mounted cameras in three trial areas to gather evidence, union leaders say more must be done to bring the yobs to justice.

Cerith Griffiths, Welsh Brigade chairman of the Fire Brigades' Union, said firefighters must also report incidents.

He said: "We are there to help. More work needs to be done to drive the message home but what form it takes, I don't know."

Mr Griffiths has himself been under attack when he and his crew went to put out a grass fire.

He said: "We came under a hail of stones and anything these youths could get their hands on. One youth was stood on the bonnet with half a brick in his hand, trying his best to smash the windscreen. It's frightening."

Steve Skivens, Assistant Chief Fire Officer of the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service, said the service had reported 64 attacks over the last 18 months.

"The signs are that we are going to have more. It's not going away.

"Vehicles and buildings have been booby trapped with things such as gas cylinders. Floorboards have been cut and petrol suspended, trying to catch firefighters out.

"When people realise this is a criminal offence perhaps they might wake up and realise they could lose their liberty. We will consider the use of Asbos as a control mechanism.

"Unless they are identified they are going to cause potentially catastrophic results." 'We've been stoned by youths': At Ely Fire Station in Cardiff, Green Watch manager Richie Webb said firefighters found it difficult to understand why they were singled out for attack.

He said: "Having stones thrown at you is not pleasant, especially when you're trying to help people."

Richie, who has been in the fire service for 16 years, said attacks have increased in the last decade.

He added: "It's slowly deteriorating. It's an epidemic that's been spreading around the country. We've been stoned, had bottles thrown at us, faced by intimidating groups of youths, threatening behaviour and gas cylinders put in cars and set on fire.

"It's strange for us to turn up and suddenly getting attacked and potentially injured.

"We've got to be aware of it all the time."

When crews are attacked, they have to withdraw from the area until police back-up arrives, giving the fire time to spread and the potential danger to increase.

Fire control headquarters keep a record of trouble hot spots so that crews can be on their guard before they go into a situation.

Richie said the new law could only help.

"Anything that promotes our safety and welfare has got to be a good thing as long as it's enforced in the right way."
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Title Annotation:News Local
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 22, 2007
Words:1016
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