Fire team formed to wipe out arson attacks

Fire team formed to wipe out arson attacks

6 August 2008

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United Kingdom — A crack team of experts has been formed to try to eradicate the problem of fire crime in South Wales.

The Fire Crime Unit has brought together a selection of people with years of experience in fighting deliberately started fires, their causes and reaching the people who start them.

It was formed at the end of a successful project of three arson reduction teams by the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service in East Cardiff, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Newport, which cut the rate of car fires by half.

The intelligence-led unit will target hotspots of fire crime activity and devise the best way of dealing with them, using the skills of fire investigators, serving and former firefighters and arson reduction officers.

Information from the non-emergency 101 number will also be used to plot patterns of criminal behaviour.

Group manager Mick Flanagan, who heads the team and is also a senior fire investigator, said his team was established to cut the 85% of fires in South Wales which are started deliberately.

“We are looking to change hearts and minds. Arson is a huge problem, which costs the rate payer an awful lot of money; around £38m a year.”

The team is split into areas of responsibility; gypsies and travellers, single non-emergency number, and fire crime, headed by station manager Matt Jones, which is split into fireworks crime reduction and fire crime and reduction.

It is awaiting a decision on a £150,000 funding bid to the Welsh Assembly Government to help cover its running costs and hopes to sign up a South Wales Police officer soon.

The unit’s first task is to clamp down on the misuse of fireworks, particularly with Hallowe’en and Bonfire Night only a few months away.

Mr Flanagan said: “We have the Jackass generation, who see people doing silly things with fireworks on television and they think it’s funny. These are youths who are well and truly old enough to know better.

“We are going to make some fast inroads into the fireworks issue and liaise with colleagues in the police and local authorities to do something about the sale of illegal fireworks on the streets of South Wales. Some are in the hands of people who use them as weapons.”

A major headache for firefighters are grass fires, which drain resources, ruin the environment and cause a visual blight. Since April 2007 there have been 3, 935 deliberately started grass fires, 1,371, or just more than a third of them in Rhondda Cynon Taf.

There were also 1,395 vehicles deliberately set on fire in the same period and 188 arson attacks on houses.

“Someone thinks it’s just a patch of grass and it’s not a problem but it’s a fire engine taken out of use,” added Mr Flanagan. “While we are tackling grass fires we could be installing free smoke alarms in people’s houses.

“We need to stop these silly, small fires. They are youths and we know this because they tell us. They are stripping the brigade of its resources. The people doing this don’t realise the serious effect they have on the Fire Service.”

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