Fire service 2 hours late to Manchester bombing scene, report finds

The fire service in the UK city of Manchester arrived two hours late to the scene of ...

Posted: Mar 27, 2018 6:52 PM
Updated: Mar 27, 2018 6:52 PM

The fire service in the UK city of Manchester arrived two hours late to the scene of a deadly suicide bombing last year and played "no meaningful role" in the response, a report published Tuesday has found.

Suicide bomber Salman Abedi killed 22 people last year on May 22 in the foyer of an arena, as thousands of people streamed out after attending an Ariana Grande concert.

An independent review, chaired by former Head of the Civil Service Lord Kerslake, illustrated how poor communications between the emergency agencies gave the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) conflicting information. The service began the wrong type of response and later set up at an incorrect "rendezvous" point several miles away from the scene as a result.

Two fire teams were in earshot of the explosion yet did not immediately respond at or nearer to the scene, having been told it was too dangerous to do so.

"The Fire Service was effectively 'outside the loop,' having no presence at the rendezvous point established by the Police, little awareness of what was happening at the Arena and only a very limited and belated presence," the report found.

The fire service was heavily reliant on the police and ambulance services for information and an inter-agency officer to coordinate the different services.

The fire service said in a statement Tuesday that there were clear failures in the leadership and decision-making in the response, and that the firefighters had been let down by their superiors.

"The 22nd May 2017 was Greater Manchester's darkest hour and it is clear that our response fell far short of that which the people of Greater Manchester have a right to expect. I apologize unreservedly for that," said Dawn Docx, the service's interim chief fire officer.

"The fundamental mistake made by the fire service that night was failing to communicate with our partner agencies and that is something at the forefront of our plans to change fundamentally the fire service and its culture."

The report said there was no single reason or person behind the failure: "Rather, it was a combination of poor communication and poor procedures."

Vodafone fail

The report also pointed to failure by telecommunications company Vodafone, saying that a casualty bureau it had set up "was seriously hampered by the complete failure" of a telephone-based communications system provided by Vodafone.

"As a consequence, communication with the families caught up in the attack was badly affected," the report found.

It said that a dedicated telephone contact service was not set up more than four hours after the attack.

"This failure was a cause of significant stress and upset on the night to the families involved, who were seeking to find out more about the situation of their loved ones. A number were reduced to a frantic search around the hospitals of Greater Manchester to find out more."

Vodafone, which has a contract with the government to provide dedicated phone services in emergencies, has also apologized.

In a statement to CNN it admitted that a failure in one of its systems meant the Greater Manchester Police were not able to issue the dedicated number immediately after the attack.

"This was clearly unacceptable and we sincerely apologize for the distress caused to those affected by this terrible attack," Vodafone said in a statement sent to CNN.

The report did, however, commend emergency responders, saying there was "a lot to be proud of."

Police and ambulance services arrived at the scene rapidly, and armed officers quickly secured the area.

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