SERIOUS concerns have been raised over Greater Manchester Fire Service (GMFRS) ability to respond to terror attacks  - which could place the public at risk, the fire watchdog has found.

The fire service was found to require improvement following an inspection – but Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Service said the service’s response to fire and other emergencies was good.

It was only one of a handful out of 11 areas looked at which were marked as good. None were described as outstanding ­— with the service's promotion of diversity said to be inadequate.

Inspectors found that not all firefighters understand how they should respond to terrorist incidents, especially if they find themselves "at that kind of incident unexpectedly".

And it transpired the service’s marauding terrorist firearms capability is now largely provided by a neighbouring fire and rescue service.

"This arrangement is of considerable concern in respect of the safety of the public. The delay of any emergency service responding to such a crisis could very well cost lives. This matter deserves the most urgent attention and resolution," stated the report.

But said Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service Chief Fire Officer Jim Wallace: “This is an ongoing and longstanding national dispute between the FBU and Fire and Rescue Service Employers, which is why we were unable to resolve it locally.

"It is important to stress that this applies to a very specific type of terrorist incident which is thankfully extremely rare but, if it happens in Greater Manchester, we have a contingency in place where we can call on the support of colleagues on Merseyside in addition to our usual operational response. Should Greater Manchester face a terrorist attack in all other circumstances, our firefighters stand ready to play their full part in the emergency services response."

Other findings by the watchdog included:

- The numbers of safety visits directed at vulnerable people were below the national average

-Fire safety campaigns not being targeted at high risk areas

- Not enough staff in its fire protection department and fire safety audit of premises were below the  national average

-Some staff reported feeling bullied or discriminated against

- No strategy, visible leadership and limited training on equality, diversity and inclusion

-Facilities for women, such as toilets and showers, are not fit for purpose at some stations.

HM Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services Phil Gormley said: “We are disappointed in what we found in our first inspection of Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service. 

“Our inspection found the service is effective at responding to emergencies and generally does so in a timely manner. It has processes in place to learn from incidents it attends. It also has a good understanding of local risks. However, the service has insufficient staff working within its risk-based inspection programme to ensure high-risk premises are complying with fire safety regulations.

“At the time of the inspection Greater Manchester did not have its own capability in place to respond to terror-related incidents because of an industrial relations dispute. Instead it has an agreement for its neighbour, Merseyside FRS, to provide its marauding terrorist attack capability. This arrangement is a serious concern, any delay in responding to such an attack could endanger the public. This matter requires urgent attention."

He adds: “Worryingly, the service does not have proper controls in place to monitor and manage the skills of its workforce. We also found examples of poor culture and behaviour and an unacceptable lack of facilities for women at some stations.

“I look forward to seeing the service improve in response to our findings.”

Mr Wallace added other issues raised were being addressed.

He said: “I am pleased to see that HMICFRS has found us to be good at understanding the risks we face and, crucially, responding to fires and other emergencies. This shows that when you call us to an incident, we are good at providing the required response to deal with it and keep you safe.

“We are, however, disappointed to have been rated as ‘inadequate’ at ensuring fairness and promoting diversity. We provided evidence at the inspection that we feel demonstrates good work that goes on within the service in this area and since the inspection have shown how we are continuing to make improvements. I do not feel this reflects the reality of Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service as we continue to strive to make this a welcoming place for everyone to work.

“This includes introducing an Inclusivity Strategy and improved Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity staff training package. We also have a core of passionate and dedicated staff carrying out diversity and inclusivity work.

“Our attraction strategy has already had significant success recruiting from underrepresented groups and Home Office Data shows that we have the second highest percentage of new female recruits in England and the highest percentage of new recruits from minority ethnic backgrounds in England.

“In other areas, we have acknowledged ourselves the need for improvement to lay the foundation for a stronger organisation and that is why we initiated Programme for Change, a major review of the entire service. This is looking at all areas of the fire service and largely our direction of travel is consistent with HMICFRS’ findings.

“We have already started work on many of the improvement areas referred to in the report and will continue to look at how we can improve moving forward.”

Deputy Mayor Bev Hughes for Policing, Crime and Fire added: “Fundamentally people want to know that when there is an incident, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service will respond quickly and effectively, so it is reassuring that the inspectors found the service is good at this.

“There are a number of areas identified where improvement is needed, and GMFRS is already taking action. The Programme for Change announced by the Mayor and upon which we are consulting is designed to improve further the effectiveness and efficiency of the service.

“However, given the remarkable work that has been done at GMFRS to improve representation amongst women and ethnic minorities, it is disappointing that inspectors did not recognise the real progress that has been made in this incredibly challenging field.”