Firefighters who arrived at the scene of the Manchester Arena attack were “sent away” despite a paramedic team arriving within 15 minutes, a report has revealed.
Fire crews took nearly two hours to attend the scene of the deadly attack, which killed 22 people last May.
A report by Lord Bob Kerslake found that poor communication meant senior fire officers were “risk-averse” and kept emergency trained staff away.
The fire service’s chief apologised “unreservedly” for their failures.
The perpetrator, Salman Abedi, detonated a homemade explosive 10.30pm as more than 14,000 people streamed out of an Ariana Grande concert, leaving more than 700 injured.
According to the report which was published yesterday, the first North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) paramedic arrived at 10.42pm and was informed the incident was a “suicide bomber” by Greater Manchester Police.
A police duty inspector declared “Operation Plato”, a plan for dealing with a suspected armed terrorist, and wrongly assumed others were aware.
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Despite protocol allowing emergency staff to continue treating the injured, a senior fire officer “stuck to rules” and kept emergency responders 500m away from any danger zone.
The 224-page report said that it was “fortuitous” that the ambulance service was not informed, or else they might have also pulled out staff who instead stayed and saved lives.
The report also stated that the fire officer was unable to get through to the police duty inspector.
As a result, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) was “brought to the point of paralysis”, to the “immense frustration on the firefighters’ faces”.
Lord Kerslake’s report said that the fire service and the control room “felt they had let down the people of Greater Manchester” on the night of the attack.
The report also revealed that:
- “Poor communications” meant fire crews only arrived two hours and six minutes after the bombing. The average response time is under six minutes.
- The fire service was “effectively outside the loop [and had] little awareness of what was happening at the arena”.
- There were “strategic oversights” by police commanders that led to confusion over whether an “active shooter” was on the loose.
- An early decision was taken to base crews at Philips Park Fire Station – about two miles away from the arena – rather than with police at the city’s cathedral car park.
- This hampered communication and awareness of what was happening at the scene.
The report made more than 50 recommendations but mentioned that its panel of experts was not there to answer the question of: “Would the earlier arrival of GMFRS at the scene have made any difference to the medical outcomes of the injured?”
“This is a question that only the coronial inquests can decide,” the report added.
Speaking after the report’s publication yesterday, Lord Kerslake said the “unspeakable attack” had been a “brutal and real-world test” of the emergency services’ response.
He said: “Not one single reason or one individual was to blame for the errors, but a most unfortunate combination of poor communications and poor procedures.”
Lord Kerslake added that “deep down” the errors were prompted by failings in “operational culture”.
But he accepted that it was “quite extraordinary that [the fire service] did not pick up what was happening.”
He said: “They should have gone forward not back.
“The firefighters wanted to go forward but they were not able to.
“The discipline of the fire service meant that they could not self-deploy.”