FIREFIGHTERS and paramedics are emigrating in droves because of violent attacks while on duty, a union leader has warned.
Up to 70 members of the Dublin Fire Brigade alone are expected to leave the country this year, said SIptu's John Kidd.
Mr Kidd says vicious assaults and worsening working conditions and pay are driving the exodus. He said attacks, averaging at 90 a year in the capital alone, were on the increase and he warned it would be only a matter of time before someone was killed.
Mr Kidd said while most assaults are mindless acts, some are carried out by members of the public furious when the increasingly over-stretched service is too late to help.
Mr Kidd, who is SIPTU's Dublin Fire Brigade Union convenor, said many of these cases went unreported because the firefighters shared the frustrations of those who attacked them.
He was commenting after the latest case involving an assault on emergency service workers.
Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard last week how a young man with a drink problem attacked medics from two fire brigade ambulance crews called to assist him during a night of drunken aggression.
David Hughes (21) headbutted one ambulance man and bit another after they tried to help him when he was found vomiting blood at a kebab shop.
"It's getting beyond a joke,"Mr Kidd said. "Recently we had a guy who chased a fire crew around with a samurai sword. Every year there are on average 90 assaults, about 12 of which would be quite serious.
"It won't be long before some ambulance crew in this country ends up being killed. Apart from getting beaten up on the job and the abuse they are getting out there, they are being treated appallingly and under terrible pressure,"he said.
"These are fabulous men and women who put their lives on the line for the community and it's not being recognised. They don't get compensation when they are assaulted like guards and nurses. At the same time, they are regarded as highly trained by fire services in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, so who can blame them leaving?"
Last year, 108 people left the fire brigade and only 30 joined.
Meanwhile, he said, the time it took to get someone to hospital had risen from 15 to 39 minutes in the past 20 years.
In that space of time, the number of ambulances in the capital had increased by just one, to 16 , while workload had increased by a third. He has called for an integrated fire and ambulance service.