Pornographic videos, helmets filled with urine and stories of racist bullying are among the accounts of the culture within the London Fire Brigade.
A damning report lays bare the scale of the ‘toxic culture’ present within the UK’s largest firefighting and rescue organisation, which concludes by labelling it ‘institutionally misogynist and racist’
The independent review said its team heard stories of women being groped in training exercises and having to run a daily gauntlet of sexist abuse, frequently euphemised as ‘banter’.
Many were routinely referred to as ‘woman’ or ‘front bottom’ and had their uniforms urinated on by male colleagues, while some were even punched and attacked, according to the report.
Some male firefighters who visited women’s homes for safety visits were also accused of going through drawers looking for underwear and sex toys, a female firefighter told the report.
‘Then they will spend hours bragging about the dildo they found and they will refer to the women as sluts,’ she said.
It was also reported that some men had explicitly said they did not want women on their watch and there were multiple accounts of women being subjected to unwanted sexual attention, with a senior figure explaining that the approach of male colleagues was to ‘treat you badly and hope to get rid of you’.
Black, Asian and minority ethnic firefighters spoke of being subjected to a constant torrent of racist abuse which left officers suffering from PTSD and even feeling suicidal.
In one incident logged in the report, a black firefighter who had been subject to racist bullying on his watch found someone had put a noose over his locker.
A Muslim member of staff had pork sausages stuffed in his pockets and a terrorist hotline sign posted on his locker.
The report said colleagues asked the Muslim officer how his Al Qaida training had gone when he returned from the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.
‘When he experienced a fatality, a Muslim Pakistani woman, in a fire and his colleagues made jokes about the body, this was the final straw,’ the report read.
‘After making several complaints that were dismissed, he began to suffer from depression and anxiety, and would later collapse at work and be admitted to hospital.
‘He has since been diagnosed with PTSD and has confessed to having suicidal thoughts,’ it added.
The report says that complaints are frequently blocked by managers and not allowed to go anywhere because they don’t deem such abuse to be racist.
A female officer said the threshold for bullying is so high ‘you would have to gouge someone’s eyes out to get sacked’, adding: ‘Everything else is seen as banter.’
These incidents and countless more lead Nazir Afzal, the former chief prosecutor who conducted the review, to label the brigade as ‘institutionally misogynist and racist’.
Afzal said he hoped the review would be a ‘turning point’ and not just a ‘talking point’, so that all firefighters could enjoy dignity at work and not have to run a gauntlet of abuse from colleagues.
‘The actions of some firefighters are bringing a great institution into disrepute and these people do not belong in modern public services.
‘When I sit before women explaining that they fear for their lives when they go to dangerous incidents because they have to depend on their colleagues, and it’s impossible to do this when the same colleagues treat them like dirt, then I despair,’ he said.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Afzal said he had received numerous requests from other fire brigades to examine their workplace culture following the release of the report.
‘The reality is we cannot be blind to this, the issues of misogyny and racism and bigotry more generally are common to all organisations.
‘Their staff need the same support and protection that the London Fire Brigade need to provide to theirs.’
The London Fire Brigade’s commissioner has accepted the organisation is institutionally racist and misogynist as he vowed change.
Also appearing on Radio 4, Andy Roe said he was ‘horrified’ to read the damning report into his brigade, adding: ‘I think that there will be many of my staff, decent dedicated public servants, that will be equally horrified. Yeah, heartbroken really.’
Asked if he agrees with the review’s finding the brigade is institutionally misogynist and racist, he said: ‘I think when 2,000 of your staff have written that story you can’t deny any of it. I accept the report in full, I accept all the recommendations.
‘There will be change and the change starts now.’
More than 4,500 of the London fire brigade’s 5,000 staff are firefighters, but only 425 are women and slightly more than 500 are from ethnic minorities.
The report was commissioned after the death of Jaden Francois-Esprit, a trainee at Wembley fire station who took his own life aged 21 in August 2020.
A statement from LFB, said it would take immediate steps to tackle the organisation’s toxic culture, including piloting bodycams nd implementing a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination, harassment and bullying.
Roe said: ‘Anyone accused of discrimination, harassment and bullying will be suspended following a risk assessment, pending immediate investigation and dismissed if the accusation is upheld.
The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said the review should be a ‘watershed moment’ for the London fire brigade and said he supported the fire commissioner in setting it up.
Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at email@example.com.
For more stories like this, check our news page.