I’ve always had a great deal of admiration and respect for all the emergency services workers who put themselves at risk on a daily basis to keep us safe.
This was only cemented further in my mind on Sunday when I spent an evening with the West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority to experience first-hand some of the challenges firefighters face at what is an extremely busy time of year.
There was certainly no shortage of challenges – and that’s putting it mildly.
As we left a 999 call where an unattended blaze burned perilously close to neighbouring houses, our ‘fire car’ – a response vehicle staffed by both police and fire officers – was bombarded with bricks by a gang of youths.
A brick then smashed into the car door right beside where I sat, bringing the true extent of what our emergency services workers face into sharp focus.
Of course, I am already well aware of the disgusting abuse and attacks our emergency service workers routinely face. But to experience it in person served as a frightening reminder.
The calm and measured response, almost nonchalance, of the professionals I travelled with betrayed the alarming regularity of such acts.
Why anyone would see fit to attack the very people who may one day save their life is truly mind-boggling. In a job already fraught with danger, the least our emergency services should expect is to be able to go about their work without coming under attack.
The type of behaviour I witnessed on Sunday not only puts those on the frontline at risk, but can also divert resources away from real emergencies. And the consequences could be deadly.
This is exactly why I supported the ‘Protect the Protectors Bill’, a piece of legislation that will mean tougher sentences for those who assault emergency services workers.
Fire Brigade Union (FBU) data shows that there was a staggering 933 incidents involving attacks on firefighters in England in 2017-18, so this important legislation can’t come soon enough.
In the six hours I spent with the fire service we attended nine calls of varying degrees of severity. And without exception the fire crews acted swiftly, bravely and with the utmost professionalism.
So while it’s important we pay tribute to the hard-work and determination of the fire service and all emergency services workers, we also have to ensure the public know what they are up against.
And it was clear from the conversations I had with fire personnel that cuts are undoubtedly having an impact.
Since 2010, West Yorkshire has lost 572 frontline firefighters as budgets have been squeezed, equating to just under a third of the workforce. And across England almost 9,000 frontline firefighers have been cut.
This is bound to have an impact.
The FBU are telling us that the increase in response times we’ve seen since 2010 as a result of firefighter numbers could seriously impact on public safety.
Hardworking emergency services workers who give so much deserve the full support of the Government.
Public safety cannot be done on the cheap.