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Manchester firefighter: We were pleading to be deployed

Manchester’s fire service took more than two hours to respond to the bomb attack, an independent panel report found.

Police, arena staff and even the military were on the scene within minutes, but the fire service did not respond until after midnight. The bomb went off just after 10.30pm.

Here, one of the firefighters anonymously tells Sky News what happened on the night of the attack, and gives details of what was going on in the fire station while they were waiting for the call.

On the terrible night in question I was on duty at one of Manchester’s city centre stations.

At roughly 10.40pm we got called to the RVP (Philips park fire station) which was located about three miles from Manchester Central fire station.

Once the proceeding fire engines (4) for the initial call gathered at the RVP it became clear there was a major incident developing.

One crew member from an appliance said his wife is a paramedic and she was going to the arena, and that sadly there were fatalities.

Some crew members put Sky News on TV and we were watching it all unfold while waiting to be sent and waiting for our specialist teams and officers to arrive.

There was utter confusion and shock as to why we were not being called out.

Some time later when they did arrive it was quite clear that key information wasn’t being passed to us and that they were not listening to what we were telling them.

But we knew at this point we needed to go and help people.

After what seemed like a decade, we were told to mount the fire engines because we were going to the forward command RVP which was Manchester Central fire station.

Upon arrival all we could see was paramedic vehicles everywhere.

Armed police at Manchester Arena after the terror attack in May
Armed police were on the scene within minutes

They were flying in and out of the station going to help the injured.

Paramedics as far as Birmingham were deployed to Manchester to help.

All this was unfolding while we were pleading with officers to deploy us.

I counted four different occasions we were told to get all of our first aid equipment ready because we were going to be deployed, but then told to de-rig because officers had changed their minds.

This was a terror attack, our country was under attack once again and we were just standing around.

I have been asked the question that if we were deployed sooner would more lives have been saved?

That’s very difficult to answer. But I have to say no.

But I do believe that if we were deployed at the right time that injured people would have had medical assistance sooner.

I do believe we should have gone straight away to help and all the firefighters on duty that night in the city feel the same way.

We were pleading for a high-ranking officer to just deploy us.

Armed police at Manchester Arena after reports of an explosion at the venue during an Ariana Grande gig.
Firefighters were the last to be deployed

The city needed us, not us standing around doing nothing.

Listening to the Kerslake review has been mentally challenging, not just for me but for the whole fire service.

It has brought back every feeling of guilt, anger and the feeling of the public thinking we have let them down.

But it has gone through every detail of what happened that night and this has been a tremendous effort to find the root cause of our non-attendance – well, late attendance.

Since the arrival of our Mayor, Manchester fire service has been through some very tough times.

Bad incidents, upper management leaving (the chief), who should be ashamed.

Reading his open letter, it is nice for him to say that firefighters shouldn’t feel guilt or blame, but that is easier said than done.

I don’t blame myself, I blame the upper management who didn’t deploy us, the people who get paid to make these decisions.

And the people who should have made these decisions have now been promoted to a higher rank.

The culture of this fire service has had a blame approach over the years.

Tributes to Manchester Arena bomb victims
Tributes poured in to the victims in the wake of the attack

Firefighters being constantly put under pressure by upper management, always under scrutiny and always being audited.

We have done a lot more than other fire services to help the people of Manchester over the past few years.

We trialled a scheme where we get called out to people who have stopped breathing.

This trial was only meant to last for six months but lasted 18 months.

But we did it without causing any issues, because that is what we do. We help people.

There is a lot of work needed to change Manchester fire service and the Kerslake review has highlighted some of these, but the Mayor and the deputy mayor have listened to their firefighters and are putting things right gradually.

Our new interim chief has been a credit to the service.

She has listened to the views of her workforce, listened to the public and has answered all of the hard questions that the media has put in front of her.

She has done this with dignity and passion.

The person that should be there answering the hard questions shouldn’t be her, it should be our old chief who has made a mockery of this fire service.

Tributes to the victims and injured of the Manchester Arena bombing in St Anns Square in Manchester
Twenty-two people were killed at the Ariana Grande concert

I personally would like to thank her for the way she has dealt with things and the difficult times, but there is a long way to go.

We have been lied to before from previous chiefs and this trust has been blown.

But with that in mind everyone needs a chance and from the things she has said, the deputy mayor has said and the Mayor himself, I believe if they stick to their word then the people of Manchester will have a fire service they can rely upon when they need help.

I pray that such an event like the 22 May 2017 never happens again, but if it did, Manchester fire service will attend and help.

The night of the Manchester Arena attack will always be in the mind of every firefighter in Manchester.

But I have high hopes for this broken service to be repaired with the right people in charge – people who don’t lie to us and people who listen to what the service needs.

It hit rock bottom, but I believe we now have the right people to change the view of its staff, but more importantly the view of the people of Manchester, who we let down.

But we will never let them down again.

Any firefighter looking for help and support can contact the Save The UK Fire Service forum.

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