Racism, misogyny, bullying and prejudice at the London Fire Brigade have been exposed in a report that warns that the organisation “needs to do more to protect its own people”.
The independent culture review of the London Fire Brigade, led by Nazir Afzal, a former chief crown prosecutor for the North West, has accounts ranging from women being groped to people having their helmets filled with urine.
It reveals incidents such as a black firefighter who was subject to racist bullying that culminated in someone putting a mock noose above his locker.
The review also refers to a Muslim firefighter who was bullied because of his faith.
Over a period of 10 months, a seven-strong team led by Mr Afzal gathered evidence of what people experienced in their working environment and the wider culture that supported this.
A female firefighter told the review that the threshold for bullying is so high, “you would have to gouge someone’s eyes out to get sacked”.
“Everything else is seen as banter,” she said.
In his conclusion, Mr Afzal said: “My review found evidence that supports a finding that LFB is institutionally misogynist and racist.
“We found dangerous levels of ingrained prejudice against women and the barriers faced by people of colour spoke for themselves.
“Not only were they more likely to be subject to disciplinary action, less likely to be promoted and largely unrepresented at senior levels, but they were also frequently the target of racist abuse.
“We also saw examples of how this was driving some people of colour out of the brigade and there was evidence that talented people, committed to public service, were being lost as a result.”
Mr Afzal said he wished to draw an important distinction with similar problems experienced by the Metropolitan Police.
Mr Afzal said other brigades should take note, writing in his conclusion: “The exposure of prejudice in the workplace at one of the world’s largest firefighting and rescue organisations should put other brigades on notice.
“Because while London’s public services are very much in the spotlight at the moment, I have no doubt that similar cultural problems exist in other fire brigades across the country.”
The report, which makes 23 recommendations, is based on the experiences of hundreds of staff members.
The review was established by the London Fire Commissioner, Andy Roe, in response to the death of firefighter Jaden Francois-Esprit, who took his own life in August 2020.
His family were concerned that he had been bullied because of his race, the report said.
“Today is a very sobering day. There is no place for discrimination, harassment and bullying in the brigade and from today it will be completely clear to all staff what behaviour isn’t acceptable and what the consequences will be,” Mr Roe said.
“I am deeply sorry for the harm that has been caused. I will be fully accountable for improving our culture and I fully accept all of the 23 recommendations.”
In his conclusion, Mr Afzal said: “Unless a toxic culture that allows bullying and abuse to be normalised is tackled then, I fear that, like Jaden, other firefighters will tragically take their lives.
“This review has to be a turning point, not just a talking point. Everyone who works for the emergency services should be afforded dignity at work. That is the very least they are owed.”