Rock attacks on Kempsey fire crews

A SPECIAL meeting was held at South Kempsey yesterday following a spike in the number of rock-throwing attacks on emergency vehicles.

Rocks have been thrown at Police, Fire and Ambulance vehicles responding to call-outs in parts of South Kempsey and West Kemspey.

Kempsey Fire and Rescue NSW Brigade Captain Tony Hackenberg presented alarming statistics about the attacks, and about a sharp rise in the number of nuisance fires his unit is attending.

Mr Hackenberg told concerned residents there had been a spike in the number of rocks, bricks, bottles and other projectiles being thrown at his firefighters.

The attacks happen when crews are responding to jobs in South Kempsey between Queen and Middleton streets, and parts of West Kempsey around Leith and Cochrane streets.

The situation is so serious the Kempsey Fire and Rescue Brigade will not proceed to non-emergency calls in the two problem areas without a police escort.

Mr Hackenberg stressed he believed it was a small group of people responsible for the majority of attacks.

South Kempsey residents who attended the meeting expressed their frustration that this small group was allowed to roam the streets lighting fires and damaging property late into the night.

In May, Kempsey Fire and Rescue Brigade responded to 99 emergency calls, with 25 calls to South Kempsey and 32 to West Kempsey.

The average figure is usually about 40, with a handful of calls to the two problem areas.

In the financial year 2011-12 the brigade had 630 call outs; with two weeks remaining in the current financial year the brigade has responded to 806 calls. 

Most of the increase had been nuisance fires in wheelie bins, piles of rubbish or grass fires.

Mr Hackenberg said his officers faced enough risk doing their jobs without having to deal with the possibility of being seriously injured by a projectile.

“We understand and accept the dangers of fighting fires and that is fair enough,” he said.

“But what you don’t expect is to risk your safety putting out a burning wheelie bin.

“Some people might not think it is a big deal but we have had three incidents that have damaged our units enough to put them out of action, including a smashed windscreen.

“We recently had a unit coming back from a fire driving through South Kempsey when a rock hit the bottom of the windscreen, denting the front of the truck.

“A little bit higher and the driver could have been seriously injured.”

Mr Hackenberg said the young people lighting the fires and throwing rocks, particularly in South Kempsey, treated it as a game.

“If we didn’t have a police escort we would pull up and wait at Queen St and we could see a bin or rubbish on fire further down Middleton St,” he said.

“Now the rock throwers wait at Queen St and pelt us as soon as we pull up, (waiting for police).”

Steve Towle from the NSW Ambulance Service and Kempsey Police Inspectors Kim Fehon and Mick Aldridge echoed Mr Hackenberg’s concerns.

“We had the situation recently where two ambulances were damaged by projectiles thrown at them,” Mr Towle said.

“Unfortunately it was a paramedic new to Kempsey who was involved in both incidents.

“The paramedic  requested and was given a transfer. 

“It is a great shame the paramedic involved won’t get to experience what a great place Kempsey can be because of these incidents.”

Mike Summerill from the Department of Housing also addressed the meeting, talking about damage to public housing and what the community could do to assist.

Kempsey Shire Council Community Engagement director Kathy Oliver outlined the council’s South Kempsey plan and how it would be implemented.

Safety risks: Kempsey Fire and Rescue NSW Captain Tony Hackenberg addresses the South Kempsey community meeting yesterday

Safety risks: Kempsey Fire and Rescue NSW Captain Tony Hackenberg addresses the South Kempsey community meeting yesterday