I read another nasty story last week about some Firemen being attacked by a group of youths on Bonfire night, you can read the full article here.

The alleged attack occurred in Merseyside, according to the report around 30 youths threw bricks at crew members who were responding to a blaze in Netherton. I don’t currently work for Merseyside Fire service but I would like to. I have worked with many fire services and at the moment I provide training to the West Midlands Fire Service and Lancashire Fire Service but we are always looking to work with more groups to share our knowledge and expertise.

Over the last few years the role of the fireman has been readily changing because in the old days most fires were cause by chip pans but today most are caused by lifestyle accidents in people’s homes. By that I mean that I mean situations like where people drink too much alcohol and fall asleep with a lit cigarette which then starts the fire.

The modern day firemen has much more of a hearts and minds role to play by going into communities and homes and advising people of where to put smoke alarms, and providing advice on drug and alcohol abuse. It’s much more of a pro-active role which I like to call hearts and minds.

Some of the problems that they can experience include going into homes and being met by a female homeowner and then the husband comes home later – not knowing the fire service were visiting to do check ups. If this situation is handled wrongly it can turn very nasty very quickly.

The second major issue they have to deal with in the modern fire service is that some people could be suffering from mental illness or learning difficulties. The key to dealing with these situations is using the techniques we have already discussed on the blog, such as building rapport with the home owners. Rapport really is the main aspect because if the firemen doesn’t build it with the male home owner then it could get quite serious.

The other issue for firemen these days is when they visit a more minor event, such as a dustbin fire. Local kids will start an altercation by throwing abuse and it depends on how the fire crew react to what happens next. For instance, if the firemen shouts back, “get lost” or words to that effect it can explode into a violent situation as reported above. Often this is because the fireman believes it is his job just to put out the fire and make things safe for the public.

Next the stones, or in this case bricks, start to be thrown. There is normally some type of stand off between the fireman and the youths and usually the firemen retreat and all of this creates a nasty atmosphere in the local community between the two parties. Interestingly it only tends to be with certain fire crews and watches in my experience. However, with the right conflict resolution training an event like this can be easily avoided.

If the fireman makes a laugh of the initial abuse and builds rapport by saying something like.

“I know I look stupid in this hat but just give us a few minutes guys and we will have a chat and see if you look any better”
The  key to this is going into communities and building rapport with the youth ring leaders, because some of them might shock us and make good firemen. The fire crews should Invite them down to open days at the station. Showing the youths the exciting stuff like how to put fires out and learning about fire can really win them over. It’s all an education process, all of this is classic hearts and minds stuff.

When you look back at recorded events and the fire service are extremely good at recording past events. We know that there has normally been a trigger that has caused a violent event – there will have been something that occurred before the bricks were thrown which started it off. Most times it begins with youths firing abuse and the firemen retaliating over something really insignificant such as abuse about wearing a big hat etc.

My advice would be, you need to use the POLITE model de brief after the event, in most cases you will find that the fireman hasn’t been polite and not followed the procedures that I have highlighted in this post. The good news is that if the fire crews are trained for these situations, we can all avoid things like this ever occurring.