‘Fed up’: Union cites a worrying rise in attacks on firefighters

‘Fed up’: Union cites a worrying rise in attacks on firefighters
Photo for illustration purposes. Credit: Walter Derieuw/Brussels Fire Brigade

The trade union for the public sector which represents fire and emergency services says the rise in attacks on firefighters is worrying.

The number of attacks on firefighters has more than doubled in the last five years, according to figures from SLFP.

“The firefighters in Brussels and other big cities are fed up with being attacked during their work,” said trade unionist Eric Labourdette in a statement.

“Insufficient measures were taken to guarantee our safety. Politicians then pointed the finger at each other.”

Labourdette feels the blame is shared among multiple authorities, including mayors.

The SLFP sent a letter to the mayors of the municipalities where the unrest was greatest, including Saint-Josse-ten-Noode, Molenbeek, Anderlecht, Evere, along with the city of Brussels.

They say those letters went unanswered.

The Belgian fire brigade has about 5,000 professionals and 12,500 volunteers, which the union believes isn’t enough for rescue zones that are “sorely lacking in volunteers.”

“Hiring professionals is also urgent, but requires a financial effort from the municipalities,” SLFP said in their statement. “One thing is certain: Belgium has too few fire brigades.”

The rise in assaults certainly doesn’t help recruiting efforts: there were 202 attacks (verbal assaults, physical assaults and throwing objects) on firefighters in 2020, compared to 109 in 2015, reports La Capitale, which obtained a copy of the figures.

The majority of verbal and physical assaults took place in Flanders, while firefighters in Brussels suffered the greatest number of objects thrown at them.

By region, of the 157 verbal assaults that took place in 2020, 60 were in Wallonia, three were in Brussels and 94 were in Flanders.

Of the 29 physical assaults, 12 were in Wallonia, four were in Brussels and 13 were in Flanders.

Of the 16 incidents of people throwing objects at firefighters, five took place in Wallonia, seven were in Brussels and four were in Flanders. Last year, residents in Brussels threw Molotov cocktails at firefighters who were responding to a fire in the neighbourhood of Les Marolles.

The data comes from fire brigade intervention reports, says Labourdette, adding that it’s possible some such crimes against firefighters go unreported and are not reflected in the overall numbers.

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