The head of London Fire Brigade (LFB) said complaints will be handled externally from Monday after an official report published on Saturday said the brigade is “institutionally misogynist and racist.”
The Independent Culture Review, commissioned by London Fire Commissioner Andy Roe following the suicide of 21-year-old trainee firefighter Jaden Matthew Francois-Esprit in 2020, was led by former Chief Crown Prosecutor Nazir Afzal.
In conclusion, Afzal said that his 10-month review found “dangerous levels of ingrained prejudice against women and the barriers faced by people of colour spoke for themselves,” and that the LFB is “institutionally misogynist and racist.”
But he also stressed that his team didn’t find “the same level of operational bigotry” as were found in the Metropolitan Police, where there had been flagrant examples of police officers misusing power and allowing prejudice to shape their actions.”
In the report, Afzal said female and non-white firefighters are more likely to be subject to disciplinary action, less likely to be promoted, and frequently bullied, sometimes resulting in the loss of talented people.
The report cited testimonies including a noose being put above a black firefighter’s locker; a female firefighter receiving video calls from a man exposing his genitalia after making complaints over misogynistic behaviour; and a muslim firefighter being verbally abused and having bacon put in his sandwich, a pork sausage put in his pocket, and terrorism hotline sticker placed on his locker.
It also said most abuses had gone undetected as victims were convinced “the consequences of speaking out will be worse than the consequences of silence,” while perpetrators, “faced with exposure, commonly turn on their victims, try to assassinate their characters, and get others to do the same.”
The culture differs between teams, the report said.
“Most participants found that the place where they worked was a supportive and friendly environment. But they knew of other watches/teams where they would not want to work,” the report says.
It also cited Francois-Esprit and his friend and fellow trainee, who had been sent to a different station “with a supportive culture and a strong team that he was made to feel a part of.”
Francois-Esprit hung himself in 2020 after a significant deterioration of his mental well being in the weeks leading to his death.
According to the report, the friend said Francois-Esprit had spoken of “excitement” about completing the training programme before being sent to the Wembley station, but his enthusiasm was later “gone” as he “felt unsupported and didn’t fit in.”
No Evidence Bigotry Impacted Work With Public
Afzal also stressed that his team didn’t find “the same level of operational bigotry” as was found in the Metropolitan Police, where there had been flagrant examples of police officers misusing power and allowing prejudice to shape their actions.”
“The behaviour of firefighters going through women’s drawers was particularly troubling,” he said, referring to a female firefighter’s account that male firefighters “go through women’s drawers looking for underwear and sex toys” when doing house checks.
“But we did not see evidence of demonstrable bigotry in fire stations impacting on their work with the public,” he continued. “‘It’s like someone pulls a switch,’ one black firefighter told us. ‘They change when they’re on the fireground. It’s like they remember why they’re firefighters.’”
The report also mentioned the fire at the Grenfell Tower, which it said “loomed large” over the review and had “undoubtedly had a seismic impact on the culture of LFB.”
The 2017 accident consumed 72 lives, making it the worst residential fire in the UK since World War II.
Staff “repeatedly” told the review team that the incident had taken its toll on their mental health, the report said, saying the review recognises “the profound impact of Grenfell in the anger of firefighters who took significant personal risks on the night, and then felt the public criticism of the Brigade’s response personally.”
The report recommended LFB management adopt “zero tolerance policy for bullying, racist, and misogynistic behaviour in the workplace,” by taking Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Training and setting up an independent complaints service.
The 23 recommendations also include considering anonymised reporting of incidents relating to bullying, misogyny and racism and reviewing complaints made in the last five years, introducing body worn video for fire safety home visits, ensuring there are secure facilities for all women in stations, improve transparency in the promotion process, and investigating signs of deterioration in mental wellbeing.
Mon, 11/28/2022 – 03:30
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Author: Tyler Durden