Fire­fight­ers ‘noth­ing to be ashamed of’ – mayor


FIRE­FIGHT­ERS fu­ri­ous they were held back for nearly two hours fol­low­ing the Manch­ester Arena bomb­ing have noth­ing to apol­o­gise for and noth­ing to be ashamed of, the re­gion’s mayor has told them.

Andy Burn­ham said crews did noth­ing wrong fol­low­ing the at­tack on May 22 – and that they were pre­vented from help­ing the in­jured and dy­ing by de­ci­sions taken by peo­ple above them.

“The fail­ure is not yours but one of process, lead­er­ship and cul­ture,” he said in an open let­ter.

He also told fire­fight­ers they were ‘right to speak out’ and en­cour­aged them to con­tinue to do so.

Mr Burn­ham wrote to crews after one fire­fighter – based at Manch­ester Cen­tral sta­tion, 400 yards from the Arena – told our sis­ter pa­per the M.E.N. of his an­guish and frus­tra­tion in the hours fol­low­ing the bomb­ing.

He said: “As I waited and waited to be sent to the Arena I felt ashamed to be a fire­fighter. I would like to ask for­give­ness of the vic­tims, their fam­i­lies and other emer­gency ser­vice work­ers for not up­hold­ing my end on the night.”

A num­ber of other fire­fight­ers have aired their frus­tra­tion at be­ing stopped from help­ing in the af­ter­math of the atroc­ity.

On Tues­day last week, the Ker­slake Re­port de­scribed how mis­takes on the night brought Greater Manch­ester Fire and Res­cue Ser­vice (GMFRS) ‘to the brink fail­ure’.

The re­port found crews had ‘no mean­ing­ful role in the re­sponse for nearly two hours’.

In his let­ter, Mr Burn­ham, who has or­dered a ‘whole ser­vice re­view’ of GMFRS, wrote: “Over the past few days, it has been hard to read com­ments from fire-fight­ers on duty on the night of the Manch­ester Arena at­tack. Some have spo­ken of their shame and even asked for for­give­ness from the peo­ple of Greater Manch­ester.

“While I un­der­stand why peo­ple feel like this, it is im­por­tant for me to say that I think they are wrong.

“No front­line fire­fighter in Greater Manch­ester has to apol­o­gise for any­thing. You and col­leagues did noth­ing wrong on that night.

“In fact, I know you were des­per­ate to help but were pre­vented from do­ing so by de­ci­sions taken above you. The fail­ure is not yours but one of process, lead­er­ship and cul­ture.

“I know this be­cause you told me of your con­cerns in the days after the at­tack. This prompted me to com­mit to an in­de­pen­dent re­port into what hap­pened and that has been pub­lished this week. Let me be clear – you were right to speak out and you should be proud that you did.

“I want a cul­ture in our fire ser­vice where peo­ple are able to raise con­cerns more freely on an on­go­ing ba­sis. I want the views of front­line fire­fight­ers to be at the heart of ev­ery de­ci­sion our fire ser­vice makes.

“I made this com­mit­ment to you at a meet­ing in the days after I was elected. I was priv­i­leged to shadow one of your crews on Bon­fire Night and it led me af­ter­wards to re­view de­ci­sions made be­fore I was elected.

“From here, I now want to widen that re­view to in­clude all as­pects of the fire and res­cue ser­vice with a view to build­ing an or­gan­i­sa­tion that val­ues and em­pow­ers its staff.”

In­terim county fire of­fi­cer Dawn Docx has been tour­ing fire sta­tions in re­cent days to speak to crews. One fire­fighter said: “Things got very heated. The bri­gade is like a rud­der­less ship at the mo­ment.”

On the night of the bomb­ing, paramedics and armed po­lice were on the scene within 10 min­utes, but the fire ser­vice was in ‘paral­y­sis’, the Ker­slake re­port added. Crews were sent to a fire sta­tion three miles away from the scene of the atroc­ity.

For­mer county fire of­fi­cer Peter O’Reilly ‘played a key role in de­lay­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties’ to co-or­di­nate with other front­line ser­vices, the re­port added. He an­nounced that he was step­ping down in September and re­tired in Fe­bru­ary.

Ms Docx has served for 23 years in the fire ser­vice and is con­sid­ered to be a strong con­tender to suc­ceed Mr O’Reilly.

Mis­takes brought the fire ser­vice ‘to brink of fail­ure’ - see page 19

Greater Manch­ester Mayor Andy Burn­ham said fire crews had done noth­ing wrong fol­low­ing the bomb at­tack on the Manch­ester Arena last May

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