Steve Harris, a crew commander at Ward End fire station in Birmingham, said verbal abuse and stone throwing were the most common form of anti-social behaviour he and his firefighting colleagues encountered.

"You know you will get it in certain areas," he said. "I could point to streets where there is a high chance of fire crews getting verbal abuse. It is a case of knowing your patch. It might come down to deprivation."

He said traffic incidents involving joyriding often attracted abuse from the teenagers involved in it.

"If you have joyriders crashing, often their friends turn up, the people they have been racing against," he said.

"If you've got the police there and the ambulance, you will get lumped in with the police. It's the same if you've got an arson attack, and can't let people past a cordon. You are seen to be helping the police.

"It is the same if you put a traffic cordon up to stop people encroaching. That's another time when you will get abuse, people want to get home quickly and see you as stopping them. It is frustrating because you are trying to stop people getting hurt; it's there for their own safety."

Mr Harris said a fire truck with its blue lights flashing was sometimes a target for stone-throwers.

He said there was now a phone hotline set up to report such incidents. "We just have to accept it. They know we probably won't stop, because we've got to get a job done. We are professional enough to ignore it.

"There is a hotline we can phone and leave a message on afterwards saying that at 2pm on such and such a day, this happened. It is to record all incidents where you were potentially put at risk so health and safety know what is going on."

He said he welcomed new legislation to protect fire fighters, but questioned whether it would do much to tackle the root of the problem, which was the attitude of youngsters toward public services.

Mr Harris, who has worked in the fire service for 14 years, said traditionally the fire service enjoyed the goodwill of the public.

"It is teenagers up to early 20s who cause us the most problems; it's places like Ladywood, Kitts Green and Ward End and probably not something you would get in Sutton Coldfield.

"Of course, I welcome any legislation to protect firefighters, but I don't think it is as simple as saying 'don't be nasty to firemen'. I don't think it will stop verbal abuse and if someone wants to attack me as a firefighter I don't think they will pay regard to the law.

"Last week we took some young offenders on a week-long course called 'Your Choice on the Road', helping them look at the consequences of their actions. That is the sort of thing that will have the best success."