After suffering a mental breakdown in the 90s Andy Graham returned to work
A firefighter, traumatised by the death of his colleague, was dismissed from his job for not being ‘capable’ of front-line duties.
Andy Graham, 51, who has 29 years of service , has been living with post-traumatic stress disorder for most of his career.
The debilitating condition was triggered by horrific incidents he attended as a young fireman in the 80s.
After suffering a mental breakdown in the 90s he returned to work but was at a blaze in Manchester’ Oldham Street which claimed the life of firefighter Stephen Huntin 2013.
He was so badly affected by Stephen’s death he went off work but returned again to non-operational posts.
Andy Graham was dismissed in July and this month lost an appeal
An inquest heard this year that another firefighter found dead at his station had been left traumatised by Stephen’s death.
Dad-of-two Lee Gaunt, 41, had been working shift at Stalybridge fire station but was found hanged on the site in October 2015.
Mr Graham says that under a new management policy all uniformed staff must be ‘operationally fit’ including those in non-operational posts, reports Manchester Evening News.
The father-of-two, from Carrington, said: “I feel like I have been left on the scrapheap.
“I have a multitude of skills, knowledge, and experience which would be of be of benefit to the organisation and the communities which it serves.
“I have just been sacked on capability grounds after more than 29 years loyal service as a fire-fighter.
“I have been living with post-traumatic stress disorder for 28 years of my career and since the incident in 2013 when our friend and colleague Steve Hunt died I have been unable to continue in an operational role.
“After the incident at Oldham Street I had no choice but to book sick as my condition became worse and I could not cope with being at work.
“I did return to work on modified duties but the management chose to impose a new capability policy and this caused a lot of extra stress which has had the effect of getting in the way of the therapy which I needed and has hindered my recovery.”
Mr Graham was dismissed in July and this month lost an appeal.
Andy has been living with post-traumatic stress disorder for most of his career
He joined the brigade in 1987 and early in his career witnessed the aftermath of three disturbing incidents.
A man took his own life by blowing himself up with explosives on the doorstep of his estranged wife in Little Lever, and two fatal car crashes happened on the M61 .
Mr Graham was based at Farnworth station first and later Stretford .
He suffered his first PTSD breakdown in 1999 but returned to work, spending six years working in community fire safety.
He later returned to operational duties until the death of Mr Hunt, who a jury found was killed unlawfully after two teenage girls deliberately started the fire in Paul’s Hair World.
After that he was off sick for 12 months but came back to work in the brigade’s training and development centre in Manchester.
For ten weeks he was then seconded as a union representative to a group set up by County Fire Officer Pete O’Reilly to look at insuring the well being of firefighters.
“It was set up after the death of Lee Gaunt. I am the only qualified Armed Forces Mental Health First Aid Instructor in Greater Manchester, and have a lot experience in the world of mental health.”
“Living with PTSD means I have nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks and bouts of depression that can last a day or weeks. I also have muscle jerks, headaches and bowel and stomach problems. Being a firefighter was my dream job from being a kid. But in the 80s and 90s there was no counselling like there is now.”
The brigade defended its decision to dismiss Mr Graham.
Paul Argyle, Deputy County Fire Officer at Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, said: “We normally wouldn’t talk about our staff in the press but as Andy himself contacted the Manchester Evening News to highlight his story it feels like we have to.
Andy pictured with his long service medal
“We have worked with and supported Andy for many, many years but unfortunately he hasn’t been able to perform his operational role for over three years now.
“We have worked with and supported Andy under our Capability Policy and Procedures, agreed with the Fire Brigades Union, seeking suitable adjustments and accessing occupational health and other support for him over the last three years but unfortunately he is not well enough to return to his job.
“We do operate across a challenging backdrop and having had to make £28 million cuts in recent years, we face further cuts in excess of £14 million in the next 4 years.
“We have a much smaller budget and fewer firefighters than in the past and we need our operational firefighters to be operationally fit to protect the public of Greater Manchester and unfortunately we cannot sustain people not doing their job indefinitely.”
I have dedicated my entire adult life to serving my country and my local community (army & fire service), and I will continue to do so. I am vice-chair of Carrington Parish Council, the only qualified Armed Forces Mental Health First Aid Instructor in Greater Manchester, and Co-founder of Trafford Veterans @ The MESS which is a local charity to provide support for armed forces & emergency service veterans and their families when they are finding life difficult (I do all of this as a volunteer).