In the build up to Bonfire Night – as the darker nights draw in – a firefighter who was nearly killed when a scaffolding pole smashed the window of his fire appliance reflects on the horrific incident and pleads with troublemakers not to attack emergency service crews.
In the early hours of August 31  a crew from Byker Community Fire Station were attending a road traffic collision in Walker.
It had been reported that the vehicle had flipped on to its roof – and the occupants were still trapped inside.
The Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service appliance had its blue lights and sirens in full operation when a cowardly act took place.
Watch Manager Graeme MacDonald was in the cab when somebody viciously threw a twelve-inch scaffolding bar at the windscreen.
“I could’ve been killed or seriously injured,” said WM MacDonald.
This incident is being highlighted at one of the busiest times of the year for Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service (TWFRS) in the run up to Bonfire Night – where incidents of anti-social behaviour (ASB) and attacks on firefighters are rife.
This was recently reinforced as TWFRS disclosed that since the start of 2021 there have been 50 ASB attacks on firefighters in the area.
WM MacDonald, said: “Think about what you are doing before you act: at the end of the day, I want to go home and see my family. I’m married with children and I want to safely return to my wife, son and daughter.
“I also want to make sure that my crew are safe as well. It’s not a game. It’s not fun. Incidents of anti-social behaviour create significant implications and what those individuals are doing has a real effect on people’s professional and family lives.
“Not only do their actions have consequences but it also means that the fire engine isn’t available to attend other incidents. It also has cost implications for the public.
“The incident I was involved in has stayed with me, and I wouldn’t want any other crews up and down the country to experience the same ordeal.”
WM MacDonald, aged 36, is North East born and bred. Graeme, who lives in North Tyneside, comes from a long line of proud and passionate firefighters. He followed in the footsteps of his father who also served in Tyne and Wear. The family connections don’t stop there as Graeme’s grandfather was in the Auxiliary Fire Service, and his uncle served as a firefighter in the south of England.
Graeme has been with Tyne and Wear FRS for over eleven-years and has served at five community fire stations including Byker, Newcastle Central, Low Fell, Sunderland Central and Wallsend.
He continues: “The incident made me feel like I wasn’t valued by the local community and I know that isn’t true. But it made me think if they could attack us in this way, then who else could?
“Firefighters are here to help the local community and that’s what this job is all about at the end of the day. Whether individuals make the wrong decision in the heat of the moment that’s not for me to argue. It’s for me to turn up for work and do my job to the best of my ability.”
Deputy Chief Fire Officer, Peter Heath of Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service, said:
“Any attacks on firefighters and other emergency services colleagues on Bonfire Night or any other night of the year is unacceptable. We aren’t just talking about a person risking their life day in, day out. We are talking about a real person – someone’s loved one – who wants to serve their community and return home safely after work.
“Firefighters, like all other emergency workers should be treated with respect and dignity, in the manner they deserve. These acts of violence against our crews won’t be tolerated and the individuals responsible for these actions will be brought to justice with help from our partners. Please be careful this Bonfire Night and recognise the work and commitment the emergency services make to keep you all safe from harm.”
Graeme MacDonald, concludes by giving some advice ahead of Bonfire Night. He said: “My advice would be to stay safe. Go to an organised event and don’t engage in any anti-social behaviour – particularly attacks against the Fire Service and other emergency service personnel as you never know when you might need our help.”
If you have any important information about deliberate fires being ignited in your local community – you can report the details anonymously by calling Firestoppers on 0800 169 5558 or by reporting it through their website www.firestoppersreport.co.uk
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Sunderland’s beaches have been named among the best in the country for the 11th year running.
Seaburn and Roker were both named as winners of the Seaside Award by environmental charity Keep Britain Tidy. The pair were once again handed Blue Flags, marking them out for their for their excellent water quality, cleanliness and attempts to constantly improve visitor amenities.
The Blue Flag awards, now in their 35th year, are issued by environmental charity Keep Britain Tidy and act as ‘a quality mark so visitors can be sure the beaches boast top-notch facilities and meet the highest environmental standards’.
Linda Williams, Sunderland City Council’s cabinet member for Vibrant City, said: “It is fantastic to see Sunderland’s beautiful beaches once again awarded the prestigious Blue Flag and Seaside Award.
“Flying these flags at Roker and Seaburn shows everyone who visits that our seafront has excellent quality bathing water and first-class facilities.
“We’re very lucky to have fantastic beaches with beautiful, clean water to swim and bathe in, and this national recognition is testament to the hard work of everyone involved in keeping our beaches clean, tidy and well-maintained.”
Paul Lebihan, from Leam Lane, who has been living in Spain, was pulled from a river near Benidorm by ambulance crews on Monday.
A Gateshead family is appealing for help to bring an ‘amazing, selfless’ 25-year-old home, after he drowned in Spain while rescuing his dog from a river.
Paul Lebihan, from Leam Lane, died on Monday after getting into trouble in the Bolulla River, near Benidorm, after successfully freeing the dog from the current. Now his family has launched a fundraising appeal to help bring Paul’s body back home and give him the memorial he deserves.
Paul’s cousin, Kallym Bell, launched aGoFundMe page in support of Paul’s parents, Deborah and Paul Snr. In less than 24 hours the page had already raised over £7,000, with hundreds of people leaving comments paying tribute to ‘one of nicest men you could ever meet’.
Keen amateur boxer Paul was well known by many people across the Leam Lane Estate, and beloved by colleagues from the several years he spent working in the navy. Kallym, 19, called Paul: “An amazing, selfless man with a heart of gold, always the biggest laugh and the very best to be around.”
A disabled teenager said he felt ‘absolutely humiliated’ after he was refused entry to a Wetherspoons with his assistance dog. 19 year old River Cartledge, who has autism, fibromyalgia and arthritis – takes his assistance dog Chico most places with him.
Video footage below from Instagram shows him pleading with security guards and the manager of The Five Swans in Newcastle to let him inside the pub with his harnessed up Shih Tzu on Saturday night.
River said: “Their issue was the fact he was an assistance dog, and not a guide dog.
“I quoted the Equality Act 2010, and the guide for all businesses, both of which any business that’s open to the public like any Wetherspoons is, have to abide by legally, regardless of any “policy” they may have in place,” he added.
The Equality Act 2010 prohibits service providers, including taxis and restaurants, from discriminating against those who need an assistance dog with them. It also requires service providers to make reasonable adjustments for disabled customers.
River claimed he had a ‘severe meltdown and panic attack’ after the interaction. ‘I have never had an experience like this and it caused me to have a medical episode.’
Chico has belonged to River for eight years and was trained as an assistance dog two years ago. River said: “Assistance dog handlers such as myself get denied in public places more often than it’s talked about, and it always makes us feel like this, and like we’re the ones causing problems for ourselves by needing a dog, when in reality it’s the ableism and ignorance of other people, not the disabled person.”
He also added “‘I was straight up told that they only allowed seeing eye dogs and they didn’t allow assistance dogs, because of their “policy”.
According to Guide Dogs UK ‘75% of all assistance dog owners surveyed [in 2015] said they had been refused access to a service at some point because they had an assistance dog with them’.
Five Swans: sign saying they allow assistance dogs *face palm*
Wetherspoons’ policy states: “We do allow registered assistance dogs.
“In these circumstances, and to avoid any confusion or unnecessary upset, ensure that your dog is wearing its recognisable leash/collar or harness.
“It would also be helpful if you could bring along suitable documentation to explain your dog’s purpose.”
River said he had ID from Assistance Dogs UK, a certification body, with him but was unable to show it at the time. Chico was however wearing a harness.
Following the complaint to the pub chain, Wetherspoon’s spokesperson Eddie Gershon said: “It was an error not to let them in with the assistance dog.
“It was a genuine error and we apologise wholeheartedly.
“We can understand the fact they would have been upset and frustrated by the situation.
“Assistance dogs are allowed into Wetherspoon pubs and we will reiterate this to staff at the pub and the company’s pubs in general.
“They are more than welcome to visit the pub with the dog.”
Good dog Chico. Check out River and Chico’s adventures here!
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