In the run up to this time, crews in the East end often respond to 30 or 40 fires per day, the traditional celebration of Bonfires and Fireworks in Gardens has now evolved into a free for all with cars, buildings and dumpsters being ignited and industrial size fireworks being used as missiles towards people and buildings.
In 2001 the problem became so bad that a joint operation between Police and Firefighters was undertaken to reduce the problem.
Police Officers who are permanently tasked to deal with the activities of the gangs are teamed up with fire chiefs to investigate and compare intelligence regarding the gang?s activities. An operational plan was developed identifying key areas of trouble, profiles of gang behaviour and an understanding of joint operational priorities for both the police and fire service.
- Multi Agency intelligence sharing between Police, Fire, Education and Welfare Services
- Sharing of Operational Strategies and Tactics between Police and Fire to ensure understanding and avoid conflict
- Identification of Key Trouble areas by analysis of Fire Call and Crime data
- Identification of Gang members and their ?Modus operandi? to try to predict likely behavioural patterns
- Dedicated Police ?Firework Patrols? in high Crime & Fire areas, preventing disorder and protecting Fire Crews dealing with Incidents
- Fire Officers attending Police Control rooms to provide real time advice for Police at Incidents
- Preventative work in Local Schools and Youth Clubs
- Operations with local Trading Standards Officials to limit the sale of Illegal Fireworks
- Agreed protocols for dealing with disorder i.e. Firefighters withdraw to safety until Police contain aggressors.
In the two years since the plan was established, attacks on fire crews have reduced although as in any ghetto area they will never be completely eradicated. On November 5th 2001 the six fire stations within the Borough of Tower Hamlets received over 200 calls. There were 36 reported attacks on fire crews and a number of injuries, one firefighter was hit by a firework and subsequently had to retire.
Conversely this year although by anyone?s standards the stations were still very busy at 169 calls to fire for the six stations in the Borough; Only two fire crews were attacked and no injuries were suffered as the crews evacuated the area until police arrived, police managed to arrive with crews to deal with all other incidents.
Verbal attacks were still high and a number of missiles were thrown at fire trucks travelling within the area, but all serious disorder was contained. During the evening there were three multi alarm incidents within the area that required the attendance of fire crews from outside the borough, information sharing across the London Fire Brigade before the events and information passed by radio from London Fire Brigade Control ensured all crews remained aware of problems throughout the night.
Although the problems faced in this tough area of London may be very specific to the area, fire crews around the world can face attack at anytime in a civil disorder scenario. As fire service commanders it is our duty to be proactive in ensuring the health, safety and welfare of our personnel. If there are troubles in your area are you doing all you can to protect the fire crews that serve that community?