The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) said today, July 13, that eleven members of its staff were assaulted in an "unprecedented" six-hour period through the late hours of July 11 and early hours of July 12.

The assaults occurred at four different locations when crews were called to provide medical treatment to patients requiring assistance, NIAS said on social media on Thursday.

The most serious of the incidents, NIAS said, happened at a bonfire site in the Carrickfergus area where five staff were physically attacked, including being punched, kicked, bitten, and spat at. They also had threats made on their lives. Those assaulted at this call included a Paramedic Student who is unlikely to have experienced anything like this before.

The other assaults on staff took place in the Forthriver area of Belfast, in Belfast City Centre, and in the Ballymacash area of Lisburn, where one person was arrested.

Eleven of our staff were assaulted over a six hour period during their Tuesday nightshift. To read more, click here:

— NIAS (@NIAS999) July 13, 2023

In Northern Ireland, loyalist groups traditionally gather for bonfire events on the night of July 11 ahead of the Twelfth of July celebrations. 

Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service (NIFRS) said on July 12 that between 6 pm on July 11 and 2 am on July 12, it received 147 emergency calls, with firefighters responding to 98 operational incidents, 34 of which were bonfire related.

The number of emergency calls in that period was down 28% compared to 2022, however, the number of bonfire incidents NIFRS attended was only one less than last year.

NIAS said on Thursday that July 11 is one of the busiest nights of the year for all emergency services and that the physical and verbal assaults make their efforts "even more difficult," adding that "it is totally unacceptable that crews should experience any form of physical and verbal assault while they perform their duties."

NIAS Chief Executive, Michael Bloomfield, condemned the attacks on staff saying: “On Tuesday night, eleven of our staff left their homes to go to their work, ready to respond to calls for assistance, from wherever they came. 

“Those eleven staff should have had a reasonable expectation that their night would involve nothing more than using their skills to ensure the safety of the communities we serve. 

“It is absolutely disgraceful that during the night they should be abused in the manner in which they were, and I condemn it in the strongest possible terms.

“I spent time with our crews across Belfast on 11th July and saw first-hand the professionalism and compassion they brought to all those who needed their care. This is in such stark contrast to the actions of those who behaved in this way towards them.

“I can only imagine the fear these dedicated staff must have experienced in the face of this aggression. I understand that the vast majority of people appreciate the efforts of our crews but that would have been of little comfort to them at that time. 

“Our staff, and all emergency services staff, need the full support of everyone in the community, and I would appeal to anyone who has information that may lead to the arrest of the perpetrators of these attacks, to bring that information to PSNI.

“NIAS has campaigned over many years highlighting the fact that assaults are not, and should never be, part of the job. It is a very sad reflection on some in our community that these incidents continue to happen.

“We will support our staff over the next days and weeks, being aware that the physical injuries will be quickest to heal. The mental distress will likely remain with them for some time to come.

“I make no apology for placing the welfare of our staff as a priority but it also concerns me greatly that such attacks can have a serious impact on our response to emergency calls as crews are stood down and cover is reduced. Not only are our staff placed in danger but lives are put at risk by the actions of these irresponsible individuals.

“I once again call for those with influence in communities to use that to stress the unacceptability of such assaults, and to raise awareness of the impact such actions have on local communities and also to call for the full weight of the judicial system to be brought to bear on anyone found guilty of attacking our crews.”

Doug Beattie, head of the Ulster Unionist Party, said the assaults on ambulance staff were "appalling" and that those involved "should be ashamed of themselves."

Appalling - those involved in this behaviour should be ashamed of themselves.😡

— Doug Beattie (@BeattieDoug) July 13, 2023

Meanwhile, the Police Service of Northern Ireland is reportedly investigating an effigy of Michelle O'Neill, the Vice President of Sinn Féin and First Minister-designate of Northern Ireland, on a Co Tyrone bonfire on July 11 as a hate crime.