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