IN more than 30 years working within fire and rescue
services across England, I have to say this week has been the
hardest and saddest I have lived through.
Losing a colleague, friend, family member - anyone - is
difficult in any circumstance and, of course, we have our fair
share of illness and tragedy in the brigade as in any other walk of
life and have bid farewell to many people over the years for all
sorts of reasons.
But to lose someone in the line of duty, as we did with Stephen
Hunt from Blue Watch Philip's Park Fire Station on Saturday night,
is quite something else.
I have been fortunate enough not to have experienced it before
and I speak for the entire Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue
Service family when I say it is utterly, utterly
That is not to take anything away from the family's own
debilitating grief - I can tell you they are working through it the
most dignified way and recently thanked colleagues here at the
service for the love they have shown them. It is this humility
which does them the greatest credit but it does clearly show how
the support of others can be so critical at a time like
I would also like to thank the hundreds of people who have taken
the time to support to the service over the last few days - it
really does mean so much to have overwhelming public support and we
really appreciate it.
I know lots of people including Stephen's colleagues on Blue
Watch at Philip's Park and indeed his family, including his
children, have been to the scene to read the tributes for
themselves. We have opened books of condolence at his station, at
the scene of the incident in Oldham Street and also online
for you to post thoughts and comments.
These, along with money raised from the memorial fund will
eventually find their way to his family and I am sure will be
treasured as a lasting testimonial to Stephen's bravery.
It will be some weeks, maybe months, yet before we are able to
say goodbye to a son, dad, brother, friend, colleague - a hero -
and hold a funeral for Stephen but in the meantime I know everyone
involved is taking great strength from your good wishes.
Exactly what happened on Saturday night will become clearer in
months and years to come, as a number of investigations seek to
ensure we fully understand the reasons why and answer all those
Not just for Stephen and his family but also for every
firefighter in Greater Manchester and beyond, who risks his or her
own safety to help protect us.
On this note I'd like to add a personal thank you to the crew
who dealt with the incident itself and continued to fight the fire
even after Stephen was taken away in an ambulance. That is an
unquestionable dedication to the job and I'm sure was done for
Stephen and indeed his colleague who was also injured as much as
On the day and night hundreds of people in the organisation
offered support and their help, some of whom have been working 24/7
ever since and done a magnificent job of getting all the practical,
supportive and legal arrangements in place so quickly.
We often think of ourselves as a family and it could not be
truer from where I am sitting today.