Whitehead firefighter recalls ‘vicious’ attack

Noel McKee (file photo)  INCT 17-002-PSB
Noel McKee (file photo) INCT 17-002-PSB

A Whitehead firefighter has vowed to continue doing his job despite being attacked during a routine call out earlier this month.

Noel McKee was part of a NIFRS crew from Whitla Street Station who responded to a Belfast car fire on the evening of Friday September 11.

During the incident, he and his colleagues were subjected to a vicious attack by two men.

Speaking to the Times this week, Noel said he had attended “thousands” of incidents since joining the NIFRS in January 1987. “There didn’t seem to be anything untoward about this one; there was a car on fire on the New Lodge Road and we arrived about 8:30pm,” he added. “We had just started to deal with the fire when we were approached by two young men, who seemed to just come out of nowhere. They shouted at us to stop what we were doing.”

Adding that the two men appeared to be under the influence of drugs, Noel described how the encounter soon took a violent turn.

“We had our backs turned and they started throwing bricks and bottles; then one of them came at us with a baseball bat. I had my breathing apparatus on but I must have been hit with the bat because that was when my colleague went to get the boss and said we had to get out of there.”

In the ensuing altercation, a female firefighter was badly injured after she was struck on the side with a piece of masonry.

The badly shaken crew had no choice but to return to the station for their own safety.

“We had to get [my colleague] off to the hospital; she turned out to have quite bad bruising around her ribs. She’s off work at the moment recovering, mentally as much as physically,” Noel said.

“It used to happen quite a bit in the 80s and 90s where we would have things thrown at us when we were on duty, but never before have we been so viciously singled out like that.

“People have asked me since how I have been and really I’m just in disbelief: why attack a firefighter? We are just out there doing our jobs and trying to help people. All we ask for is a bit of respect.”

Despite the incident, the Whitehead man voiced his determination to continue his work as normal. “It will take more than two idiots to put me off my job,” he said.