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PROBLEMS in the fire service go “right to the top,” the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has warned as a new report reveals “deeply troubling” evidence of bullying, harassment and discrimination.
In the report from His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS), published today, staff recall racist, sexist and homophobic comments and behaviours which have gone unchallenged or been dismissed as “banter.”
Inspectors make 35 recommendations and warn that the findings are just “the tip of the iceberg.”
They are calling for appropriate background checks on all firefighters and staff and the introduction of new misconduct standards.
In several services, inspector found a worrying trend of staff not raising concerns for fear that doing so would be “career suicide.”
Staff from ethnic minority backgrounds are less likely to report bullying or harassment than their white counterparts, the report said.
Examples of behaviour reported include a senior officer referring to a black colleague using the “N-word” and putting it down to “having a laugh,” and homophobic abuse being found written on a firefighter’s locker.
There was also an incident involving two male firefighters joking with a female colleague that they were “going to rape her” and the three of them acting out the rape together.
FBU general secretary Matt Wrack welcomed the HMICFRS beginning to address the issues and acknowledge the scale of the problem.
The union has raised concerns for “many years,” he said.
“It is clear, both from our experience and from the contents of this report, that the failure to address discrimination and harassment in the service goes right to the top,” Mr Wrack said.
“Some fire service leaders are part of the problem and have systematically failed to address discrimination, harassment and bullying in the service.
“This report corroborates those experiences.”
Mr Wrack said that staff have found themselves under investigation or subject to disciplinary proceedings after speaking out, making others scared to follow suit.
“As the only democratic and representative body for firefighters and control room staff, the FBU will take a leading role in transforming the culture of the Fire and Rescue Service, putting women, LGBT and black and ethnic minority firefighters in the driving seat of our campaign,” he pledged.
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