Emergency services declare war on alcohol-fuelled attacks

Emergency service personnel will no longer stand for personal attacks when answering calls.
Emergency service personnel will no longer stand for personal attacks when answering calls.

POLICE OFFICERS, PARAMEDICS and Firefighters throughout Scotland have been punched, threatened and spat on as they stand on the front line at times of emergency.

That was the result of a staff survey that revealed one in three emergency service workers have been subjected to physical abuse while attending an incident – with alcohol misuse the main contributory factor.

For the first time, however, the three ‘blue light’ services are to unite with one strong and unequivocal voice in demanding an end to such attacks.

Police Scotland’s Assistant Chief Constable Mark Williams said: “The demands being placed on the emergency services by people who are drunk are huge. On many occasions, it delays police officers, firefighters and paramedics from getting to members of the public who really do need our protection and help.”

Assistant Chief Officer David McGown of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service added: “The public will be shocked to hear our frontline firefighters and control officers are often abused and obstructed by people under the influence of alcohol.

“They are all working to save lives and protect property. Being drunk is absolutely no excuse for impeding emergency responders or directing abuse at them. We are determined to get the message across – this is reckless, criminal behaviour that risks lives and it can never be tolerated.”

The Scottish Ambulance Service Director of Service Delivery, Daren Mochrie, commented: “Alcohol has a significant impact on ambulance operations across Scotland. Crews are responding to alcohol related incidents every day of the week and at all times – it is no longer a weekend phenomenon.

“Our staff are highly trained specialist clinicians who all too often have to respond to people who are simply intoxicated, delaying their response to patients with a genuine medical need.

“There can also be wider impact on our operations as precious resources often have to be taken off the road to be cleaned after an intoxicated patient has been sick, which takes time and removes an ambulance that could available to respond to a medical emergency.”

In the survey conducted by each of the three services on firefighter recalled: “I was in breathing apparatus at a house fire and I found a man lying in his bed. He had tried to cook after coming back from a night out but he was drunk and fell asleep.

“The smoke alarm was blaring but he only woke up when I shook him to see if he was alive. He punched me in the face.”

Staff handling 999 calls highlighted their struggles to get key information about emergencies, describing having to battle to understand callers so drunk they are unable to give their location or even state what they think is happening.

ACO McGown explained: “Officers answering 999 calls from intoxicated people often struggle to get details of where the incident is and what is involved, which makes it much harder for them to know what resources to send.

“Being unable to get reliable, accurate information also means that firefighters can be sent to incidents without vital information regarding people involved and the risks they may face.

“When someone is trapped in a fire this could mean our teams may not know where to focus their search, which therefore exposes them to dangerous environments for longer as they attempt to locate the person.”

Alison Douglas, the Chief Executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, gave the charity’s backing to the campaign to end abuses of emergency service operatives.

She said: “Our emergency services have to spend far too much time and resources dealing with the illness, injuries, disorder and violence caused by excessive drinking, often at risk to themselves.

“Reducing our overall alcohol consumption, with particular targeting of high risk groups, will help ease the pressure on our police, fire and ambulance staff.

“But encouraging people to drink less is difficult when we are surrounded by cheap alcohol that is constantly promoted as an everyday product.”