Firefighters assaulted by drunken crowd at crash

Photo: NZ Herald
Photo: NZ Herald

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 to take a dig at police after his staff were assaulted as they tried to protect the crash scene.

Peter Harwood's Waihi Beach crew were first to the scene of a two-car crash in the town about 8pm last night.

However, shortly afterwards other young, drunk, and angry locals turned up at the scene 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 short-sighted day and I think the police nationally need to look at putting constables back into our small town."

Police have been approached for comment.

Review of stations

Waikato police began a review of the number of stations and officers in its district in 2015, resulting in a number of station closures and officers transferred to other areas.

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 the one last night 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, eh."

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.



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