CCTV Protects Firefighters

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A combination of newly installed CCTV cameras into fire engines, new powers protecting emergency workers and efforts to engage with youngsters in communities have led to a dramatic fall in the number of attacks on firefighters.

Three CCTV cameras were installed at the end of last year after figures revealed firefighters attempting to put out blazes and save lives were increasingly being targeted by armed thugs.

There were 84 attacks in 2005, from people armed with bricks, bottles, stones, and darts. Crews were even threatened with a replica handgun and an air rifle.

Fire chiefs installed the CCTV cameras so they would have more chance of prosecuting attackers, but the cameras have also worked as a deterrent, with just 17 attacks this year, compared with 35 by the same time in 2005, in Lothian and Borders.

CCTV cameras have been placed on engines going to areas where attacks are most common – including Sighthill, Newcraighall and Livingston. In Sighthill, the number of attacks has fallen from eight last year to only one so far in 2006. In Livingston, where there were four attacks in 2004, there have been none so far this year.

Meanwhile, the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act 2005, which made it an offence to "assault, obstruct or hinder" firefighters in the line of duty, made it easier for police and the courts to crack down on offenders. Firefighters have also been going to schools and homes in an attempt to build up a better rapport with residents and young people.

Tom McGrath, watch manager for Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue, said digital CCTV had been critical in helping to drive down the number of attacks.

"The CCTV cameras were funded by the city’s problem solving partnership and they have helped," Mr McGrath said. "They were introduced in November 2005 and attacks, especially at that time of year, had been quite substantial and unacceptable. They were put in as a means of protecting our staff in the three perceived biggest problem areas. We want to take people to task on what they’re doing and we have a duty of care for our own workers, so CCTV was seen as a good way of doing both."

He also said firefighters had welcomed the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act 2005, which has led to more than 70 people in Lothian and Borders being charged with attacks.

The fire service also launched its service improvement plan last year for 2005-10, which promised much more community work. Craigroyston and Clovenstone primary schools, both covered by the Sighthill station, took part in a primary education school programme, which saw fire crews teach children about safety.

David Mallin, of Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service, said: "By getting into communities and speaking to young people we are breaking down barriers and allowing them to get to know their local crew. That makes them less likely to throw missiles."

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