The region’s firefighters are to get a pay rise after agreeing to extra training to respond to terror attacks. The move ends a bitter dispute and comes after a report by a government inspector in December claimed that Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service remained unprepared to respond effectively to a terrorist attack, four years after the Arena bombing.
At the inquiry into the bombing of Manchester Arena, GMFRS were severely criticized for its response on the night of the attack. Firefighters, including a team with specialist training for such an event, were held back from scene for two hours.
Now all firefighters in Greater Manchester and London have agreed to respond to Marauding Terrorist Attacks (MTA) after a ballot of members by the Fire Brigades Union – the only services in the UK to do so. Negotiations are continuing regarding other brigades. Until now, GMFRS firefighters had volunteered for specialist terror training.
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MTAs are incidents when terrorists with a firearm rampage through an area aiming to find and kill or injure as many as possible. If firefighters respond to MTA incidents, they may be asked to help with the evacuation of casualties as well as firefighting.
The agreements struck by GMFRS and London will see the provision of appropriate training and equipment. This equipment will include ballistic protection, including ballistic helmets and goggles.
As a result of the Mumbai attacks in 2008, the government approached the union to see if its members would be prepared to extend the role of the service and the role of the firefighter to engage in a new area of work – MTAs. The FBU stressed to government the need for ‘safe systems of work and suitable and sufficient equipment’.
A resolution was passed in 2013 which stated responses to MTAs were not ‘within the role of fire and rescue service personnel’ and participation was voluntary. The FBU, among other things, wanted an increase in firefighters’ pay, nationally agreed guidance and protocols over working with other emergency services, adequate training and provision of equipment and confirmation no firefighter would work in a ‘hot zone’ at an MTFA incident.
In 2019, a 60-strong team of GMFRS firefighters specially trained to deal with terror attacks was broken up after a six-year dispute between and union and brigade bosses. It meant that if there was an attack, the region would be partly reliant on back-up from a Merseyside-based team – more than 30 miles away.
Due to the dispute, equipment used by the team – such as a specialist vehicles and ballistic protection gear – was removed from three stations. The Home Office was informed the region no longer had ‘MTFA (marauding terrorist firearms attack) capability’. At the time GMFRS bosses wanted all firefighters to have MTFA training and offered around an extra £ 1,500 on salaries for it to be part of their contract.
The issue was highlighted in a report by HM Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services, which said “urgent” action was required. In December last year another government report said GMFRS remained unprepared for a terrorism attack. But the county’s fire chief and deputy mayor hit back, insisting the service does have the capability to respond to a terrorist strike.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) said in a report while GMFRS does now have its own specialist MTA (Marauding Terrorist Attack) response, they had concerns about its sustainability. The agreement in place was short term, and at the time of the inspection it was due to run out. The service has made repeated attempts to resolve the issue locally.
The report added: “We are also concerned that the training of non-specialist firefighters for MTAs has been suspended. This could affect how firefighters work alongside other blue light responders. If they aren’t following the same procedures, public safety could be compromised . ” GMFRS has four “units” of specialist firefighters trained for MTAs but their existence has been the subject of long negotiations with the FBU.
However, in April 2021, GMFRS’s ‘marauding terrorism attack’ capability was resumed. The move was revealed at the Manchester Arena public inquiry, which examined the response of the emergency services to the terror attack that left 22 people dead in May, 2017.
But today Matt Wrack, Fire Brigades Union general secretary, said: “Our members go to work to save lives and will want to do so wherever they can, no matter how dire or threatening the circumstances. MTAs are a horrendous prospect, and any firefighter that can help as part of a properly-organized response, where risk is appropriately mitigated, would want to do so.
“The agreements provide the framework and detail for strong arrangements that will protect the public and firefighters, consisting of proper training and equipment. They will mean that these are the only two fire and rescue services in the UK which will have MTA-trained firefighters at every station in their area. It is right that the negotiated terms recognize the increased risks and responsibilities of firefighters going into dangerous situations.
“The committed and professional approach taken by the Fire Brigades Union, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service and the London Fire Brigade have been the key to this agreement being reached. The FBU and the employers’ side of the National Joint Council have been keen to reach a similar agreement on an all-UK basis but outside of Scotland there has been unspecified political obstacles to this objective.
“Discussions continue to take place in Scotland, where we hope that progress can be made soon. In a similar vein we hope that these two agreements provide an impetus to achieving an all-UK agreement in the near future.”
A spokesman for the FBU said they were “not at liberty” to reveal how much each firefighter would get as a result of the agreement, but confirmed they would get an pay “uplift”.
Chief Fire Officer of GRMFRS, Dave Russel, said: “The signing of a collective agreement by GMFRS and the Fire Brigades’ Union in relation to our capability to respond to a Marauding Terrorist Attack or a Mass Casualty Rescue is a significant event for our workforce and the communities we serve and represents the outcome of a period of intense positive and collaborative activity with the FBU.
“We will now commence the delivery of training to all our operational colleagues, which includes a full day practical session involving partner agencies. The safety of our colleagues is our priority, and our firefighters are being provided with the right training, equipment and personal protective equipment to keep them safe and ensure our response is what the public would and should expect.
“Over the coming 12 months we will equip every fire appliance in Greater Manchester with specialist equipment to support a timely and effective multi-agency response to a Marauding Terrorist Attack or a Mass Casualty Rescue event.”