Fire chief ‘felt ashamed to be a firefighter’ as sobbing paramedic asked crews why they were ‘stood around’ instead of helping Manchester Arena bomb victims a mile away, inquiry hears
- Fire engines took two hours to arrive at the scene of Manchester Arena bombing
- Retired fire officer has told an inquiry they should have been there in 10 minutes
- Tearful paramedic confronted firefighters ‘stood around,’ a mile from the scene
- Alan Topping told an inquiry today: ‘We didn’t do our jobs to make a difference’
An officer said he ‘felt ashamed to be a firefighter,’ after a sobbing paramedic asked crews why they were ‘stood around,’ instead of helping victims of the Manchester Arena bombing a mile away, an inquiry has heard today.
The first fire engine did not arrive at the scene until two hours after the explosion on May 22 2017, which killed 22 people and injured hundreds at the end of an Ariana Grande concert.
Earlier today, retired fire officer Alan Topping told the hearing that specialist teams who could have treated and moved casualties needed to be there ‘within five to 10 minutes,’ and by the time they arrived, they were ‘not really going to offer that much help’.
Mr Topping, a duty command support officer on the night, said in the aftermath of the attack he ‘felt ashamed to be a firefighter’.
He stated: ‘We didn’t respond and we didn’t do our jobs to make a difference. It took me a couple of days to put my shirt back on such was the strength of my feelings.’
Retired fire officer Alan Topping told an inquiry today that firefighters should have been at the Manchester Arena bombing scene within 10 minutes. In fact it took two hours for the first engine to arrive. Mr Topping said he ‘felt ashamed,’ after the attack
He explained he was not even aware of the blast at 10.31pm until he received a call from his control room more than a hour later which informed him of ‘loads of casualties’ and also reports of a gunman.
On his return from dealing with a mill fire in Stockport, Mr Topping assumed colleagues were already at the Arena and said he expected ‘something like 10/12 pumps with specialist teams would have attended with lots of officers as well’.
Soon after Mr Topping was deployed to Thompson Street fire station in Manchester city centre and was ‘shocked’ on his arrival at about 12.25am when he saw five fire engines on the forecourt ‘with a lot of firefighters hanging around, some lying down’.
The inquiry heard 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”‘
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 impatient at being kept away from the scene.
He said there were many ambulances and paramedics at the station who were being mobilised to the incident.
The inquiry heard 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, although he told the inquiry that senior colleagues waiting at the station said their bosses were not allowing them to attend.
Salman Abedi killed 22 men, women and children in the blast in May 2017. The inquiry is looking at events before, during and after the suicide bombing
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’.
Mr Cooper asked if it was correct that ‘many, if not all’ firefighters turned their back on a senior officer when he was unable to give them answers about the lack of response 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.
The inquiry is looking at events before, during and after the suicide bombing by 22-year-old Salman Abedi.
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