Firefighters were begged by a paramedic to attend the scene of the Manchester Arena bombing after she had found them “stood around” a mile away, a public inquiry into the response to the incident has heard.
Fire engines did not attend the scene of the blast on 22 May 2017 until two hours after the attack was launched. The explosion left 22 men women and children dead, and hundreds more injured at the Ariana Grande concert.
Now one firefighter has said he his colleagues felt ashamed in the aftermath of the incident after being told not to attend the scene following reports a gunman was at large.
Retired fire officer Alan Topping told the hearing that specialist teams who could have treated and moved casualties would have needed to have been there “within five to 10 minutes” to have assisted those in need.
Mr Topping, who served as duty command support officer on the night, said in the aftermath of the attack he “felt ashamed to be a firefighter”.
“We didn’t respond and we didn’t do our jobs to make a difference”, he said. “It took me a couple of days to put my shirt back on such was the strength of my feelings.”
He told the hearing he had not even been made aware of the explosion at 10.30pm until he received a call from the control room an hour later, informing him there were “loads of casualties” while also sharing reports of a gunman.
Having returned to the station from a mill fire in Stockport, he told the hearing he had assumed his colleagues would have already been at the arena, and that “something like 10/12 pumps with specialist teams would have attended with lots of officers as well”.
However after being deployed to Thompson Street fire station in Manchester city centre he said he was “shocked” to find five engines on the forecourt at about 12.25am “with a lot of firefighters hanging around, some lying down”.
He said: “It just didn’t feel right, it didn’t feel like a normal incident to me.”
Mr Topping told Paul Greaney QC, counsel to the inquiry, there was “a lot of anger, upset, confusion” among the crews who were agitated about being kept away.
He added that a number of ambulances and paramedics being mobilised to the incident were also at the station - with the inquiry hearing one distressed female paramedic approached a firefighter who recalled: “She came over crying, pleading with us to go over and help.
“Her exact words were, ‘what are you doing just stood around here? There are people dying, we need your help. I have just taken an 18-year-old girl in the back of an ambulance who died en route to hospital and you lot are just stood around’.”
The firefighter then spoke to Mr Topping, who admitted he had as little understanding of the reasons for the inaction - but told the inquiry that senior colleagues waiting at the station said their bosses were not allowing them to attend.
The inquiry has heard previously that police declared a marauding terrorist firearms attack amid erroneous reports of gunfire but failed to inform the fire and ambulance services and none of the three blue light services met at a rendezvous point to discuss a planned response.
Mr Topping agreed with John Cooper QC, representing the bereaved families, that the scene at Thompson Street “felt wrong” because important resources and services his colleagues could have provided were “simply wasted”.
Asked if it was correct that “many, if not all” firefighters turned their back on a senior officer at a debriefing shortly after the attack, Mr Topping said: “People showed their emotions differently whether it was turning away, walking away… people were crying. I have never seen firefighters crying at a debrief.
“Firefighters and officers felt such shame, disappointment, all words you could use to describe why we didn’t attend that incident to help people.
“I felt ashamed to be a firefighter and I felt like we had let the people of Greater Manchester down. We were there to help and we didn’t do our job. I just feel so sad we didn’t attend for the families.”
He said he no longer felt ashamed as he now knew the reasons why they did not attend but he was still saddened.
Mr Topping told the inquiry that on his retirement last September he still felt that joint working between the emergency services in Greater Manchester had not improved sufficiently.
Additional reporting by PA