Fire­fight­ers at­tacked at crash scene face wait for po­lice back-up

Coastal News - - News - By BELINDA FEEK

Two fire­fight­ers were left blood­ied af­ter be­ing at­tacked by a drunken mob at the scene of a car crash.

The in­ci­dent has prompted the Waihi Beach fire chief to­crit­i­cise po­lice due to the length of time it took of­fi­cers to ar­rive.

Peter Har­wood’s Waihi Beach crew were first to the scene of a two-car crash in the town about 8pm on Satur­day.

How­ever, shortly af­ter­wards other young, drunk and an­gry lo­cals turned up and tried to pick a fight with one of the par­ties in­volved in the crash, he said.

“It was ba­si­cally a straight­for­ward car ac­ci­dent where there was one party more at fault. We’ve got that time of year where there’s par­ties go­ing on in the week­end and some­body knows some­body else who sends out a text and the next thing you know some lo­cals are down there, fu­elled up, ready to cause trou­ble.”

“Whether they were do­ing it out of a sense of jus­tice or what­ever I don’t know but they were ob­vi­ously com­ing to cause trou­ble and to pick a fight and of course well, we have to stop them.”

A cou­ple of his crew were on the re­ceiv­ing end of a few jabs as they tried to keep the drunken in­trud­ers from en­ter­ing the crash scene.

The in­ci­dent had riled up lo­cals who were ex­press­ing their anger and dis­ap­point­ment on so­cial me­dia, with one say­ing “as­sault­ing fire­fight­ers about as low as you can go. Ab­so­lutely dis­gust­ing. Hope they see these com­ments and go and apol­o­gise,” while an­other said it hap­pened out­side her house.

“All young lo­cals in both cars. There were a num­ber of fights be­tween them which we were con­stantly break­ing up, too much al­co­hol and testos­terone! The fire­fight­ers were there en masse, did a fan­tas­tic job, cops took hours to get there, they were snowed un­der with crate-day in­ci­dents.”

Har­wood said a cou­ple of his crew suf­fered bloody noses from be­ing on the re­ceiv­ing end of a cou­ple of jabs from the drunken louts, but added “it wasn’t that bad”.

“It was just a mat­ter of de­fus­ing the sit­u­a­tion.”

Har­wood said it wasn’t fire­fight­ers’ jobs to pro­tect a crash scene from drunken young peo­ple try­ing to at­tack emer­gency ser­vices staff — and said the big­ger is­sue was the lack of polic­ing in the area.

“I think there’s a mes­sage here that I would like to say, and what’s re­ally dis­ap­point­ing is that they took our lo­cal po­lice away from us. Now, Waihi Beach and Athen­ree is a dy­namic, grow­ing area and I don’t know where the de­ci­sion came from, fur­ther up the chain, I imag­ine.

“They took our lo­cal po­lice away from us and they sent them to Paeroa and that was a re­ally sad day and a re­ally short­sighted day and I think the po­lice na­tion­ally need to look at putting con­sta­bles back into our small town.”

Com­pound­ing po­lice re­sponse time was the fact a slip had blocked both lanes of the Waikino Gorge, State High­way 2, mean­ing the clos­est of­fi­cer had to travel from Whanga­mata¯ , about 20 min­utes away.

How­ever, once trou­ble started un­fold­ing and St John Am­bu­lance staff put out an alert there was trou­ble “all of a sud­den when that went out there were po­lice for Africa”.

“But what I’m say­ing is, there was a hang of a wait and if they had been present from the get-go some­times just the pres­ence of po­lice can make peo­ple back off and I think that’s the mes­sage that I would like to get out.

“There’s lo­cal po­lice liv­ing there. They should have a sys­tem where they can pull them into ser­vice im­me­di­ately if it’s pos­si­ble, but why take our lit­tle po­lice sta­tions and shut them down in the first place? That prob­a­bly an­noys me more than any­thing.”

He said an in­ci­dent like this one was un­usual, but not sur­pris­ing as it was com­ing into the busy sea­son. How­ever he would now just hope it doesn’t hap­pen again.

“This doesn’t hap­pen very of­ten and may not hap­pen for a long time, so fingers crossed.”

How­ever in a state­ment, Waikato po­lice area com­man­der Su­per­in­ten­dent Bruce Bird said Waihi Beach did have staff avail­able 24/7 and he was com­fort­able with how his of­fi­cers had been de­ployed around the re­gion.

“Small towns like Waihi Beach now have of­fi­cers avail­able 24/7, and the nearby Waihi sta­tion is fully staffed.

“Ad­di­tion­ally, the an­nounce­ment of 1800 new po­lice ear­lier this year means we will be adding 127 of­fi­cers across the Waikato dis­trict, in both ur­ban and ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties.”

Po­lice pri­ori­tised at­ten­dance at events based on a num­ber of fac­tors, such as the se­ri­ous­ness of the in­di­vid­ual cir­cum­stances, vul­ner­a­bil­ity of the peo­ple in­volved, po­ten­tial for the in­ci­dent to es­ca­late, and so on, he said.

“Po­lice are com­mit­ted to pro­vid­ing an ex­cel­lent ser­vice to all the com­mu­ni­ties in Waikato, in­clud­ing Waihi Beach.”

Mean­while Min­is­ter of In­ter­nal Af­fairs and NZ First MP Tracey Martin, who over­sees Fire and Emer­gency New Zealand, was hor­ri­fied by the in­ci­dent and said at­tacks on emer­gency re­spon­ders had been in­creas­ing.

“It’s just be­com­ing more com­mon that the peo­ple that show up to ac­tu­ally help [get at­tacked], it’s the lack of re­spect

. . . it’s a bit of a worry.”

She would talk to Po­lice Min­is­ter Stu­art Nash to­mor­row about the pos­si­bil­ity of putting an of­fi­cer or two back in the pop­u­lar beach town. How­ever, the ul­ti­mate de­ci­sion as to de­ploy­ment re­mained with po­lice bosses them­selves.

“The last lot pulled po­lice of­fi­cers out of small, ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties, well who else do they have then? So here we are, here’s our vol­un­teer fire ser­vice be­ing the first guys on the site and no back-up at all . . . there should be po­lice in all of our small towns, ab­so­lutely.”

She said fire­fight­ers were not po­lice of­fi­cers, they were vol­un­teer fire and emer­gency ser­vice work­ers who gave up their time to help the pub­lic.

“They put them­selves in harm’s way when it comes to fire or car ac­ci­dents and the car­cino­gens and the en­vi­ron­ment that they work in any­way, they shouldn’t have to put them­selves in phys­i­cal dan­ger from be­ing at­tacked.”

She added that her NZ First col­league Dar­roch Ball’s pro­posed Pro­tec­tion for First Re­spon­ders and Prison Of­fi­cers Bill was plucked from the bal­lot in May and is cur­rently await­ing its first read­ing. The bill pro­poses a manda­tory min­i­mum sen­tence of six months’ jail for peo­ple who as­sault emer­gency ser­vices staff. Cur­rently only those who at­tack po­lice face an ag­gra­vated as­sault charge.

Fire Ser­vice Com­mu­ni­ca­tions shift man­ager Craig Dally ear­lier told the Her­ald there was a crowd at the scene and some of them had been drink­ing.

“There were some in­tox­i­cated peo­ple there that as­saulted a cou­ple of fire­fight­ers — there was a bit of a punch-up.”

Dally said the fire­fight­ers’ in­juries were “very mi­nor” and in­cluded a bloody nose.

Two peo­ple in­volved in the crash were taken to hos­pi­tal for treat­ment to some mi­nor in­juries.

PHOTO / FILE

Fire­fight­ers at­tacked at crash scene.

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