England’s fire and rescue services have been told to “get a grip” of staff misconduct following a damning report into the sector uncovered claims of bullying, harassment and discrimination in all 44 regional organisations.
Instances of racist, misogynistic and homophobic behaviour were discovered in a quarter of services, according to the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services report released on Thursday.
The report marks the second time in 10 days that concerns have been raised about the culture of an emergency service. The Casey review of London’s Metropolitan Police, published on March 21, found the force to be guilty of “institutional racism, misogyny and homophobia”.
The watchdog issued official “cause of concern” notices to five of the fire and rescue services, which were not named in the report. One senior officer used a serious racial slur against a black officer but dismissed it as banter, the report said.
Two male officers joked about raping a female colleague then acted out the assault on her. Homophobic abuse was written on the locker of a gay firefighter, the report found.
Roy Wilsher, HM Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services, said the findings shone a light on “deeply troubling bullying and harassment” in fire and rescue units across England.
“I fear this could be just the tip of the iceberg,” he added. “The sector needs to get a grip on how it handles misconduct matters. Staff should feel able to report allegations without fear of reprisals.”
Inspectors found allegations of bullying in all 44 services but said some were “significantly worse” than others. Firefighters told the inspectors the sector was a “boys’ club” and they feared reprisals if they reported bad behaviour.
At London and Gloucestershire fire and rescue services, inspectors found such severe problems that they were placed in the “engage” process of enhanced monitoring for brigades suffering particularly acute problems.
An independent review of the culture of London Fire Brigade, published in November, found multiple instances of racism, misogyny and homophobia.
The nationwide report made 35 recommendations, including that services should be required to make background checks on new and existing staff, something which had not been undertaken consistently across the country.
It also suggested units should work to improve staff diversity and introduce mechanisms to monitor cultural problems within their organisations.
“The shocking behaviour we uncovered makes it clear the sector cannot wait another day before it acts,” Wilsher said.
Mark Hardingham, chair of the National Fire Chiefs’ Council, representing brigade heads, said the report made for “difficult reading” and that it painted a “stark and damning picture” of the cultural issues fire and rescue services faced.
“I fully support the report’s recommendations and I am committed to working with fire and rescue services, government, HMICFRS and wider partners to ensure we see tangible improvements — and provide challenge and support where we do not,” he said.
Source: Financial Times