Award-winning firefighter sacked after making explicit jokes at team-building event

A firefighter who was at the forefront of his brigade’s “values” campaign was fired after making explicit jokes at a team-building event.

A court hearing heard how laureate Richard Holden, 46, spoke out against bullying and even dedicated his time to raising funds for mental health charities and other good causes.

However, it was reported to senior colleagues after repeatedly joking about “pegging” which is a slang term for a sexual practice, Lancs Live reports.

Holden, who is married, was initially unsure of what the term meant when it was originally mentioned during a break from a young colleague who said her partner “likes to be pegged”.

However, the part-time worker started using the term himself and even suggested that a quiz team he was a part of during the three-day event at a Lake District country house should be called the “Peggers”.

Mr Holden – based at the Preesall Fire Station near Fleetwood – was later fired after a disciplinary investigation. Two young recruits, a man and a woman, both in their twenties, received written warnings.

Details emerged in a Manchester employment tribunal, where Mr Holden, who joined the brigade in 2014, lost a wrongful dismissal complaint.

Mr Holden received the “LFRS star award” in 2018, and had been used on posters promoting the brigade’s campaign within the service called STRIVE, an acronym which stands for “Service, Trust, Respect, Integrity, Valued, Empowered “.

His downfall began in September 2020 when he joined recruits on a course at Brathay Hall Residential Center in Ambleside as part of his training as a recruit for a full-time position.

Referring to Mr Holden as the “plaintiff,” court judge Brian Doyle said: “He was much older than the other recruits in the course, as most of the recruits were in their twenties, while he was in his forties. .

“He did his best to participate in the conversations and be part of the group.

Firefighter Richard Holden, 46, was fired for jokes at a team-building event

Most of the conversation was about partners and the topic turned to sexual matters, including a discussion of their partners’ reduced interest in sex after having a baby.

“A recruit gave advice on techniques in this context before the conversation turned to the topic of ‘pegging’.

The claimant asked for the meaning of the word because he had no idea what it meant and felt like he was the only one who did not know what it meant. She explained what “pegging” was and another recruit said he appreciated it as well.

The next day, as the group left Brathay Hall in the minibus, an instructor asked the group what they had learned from the course.

“One of the recruits replied, ‘We have learned a lot about reattachment, sir.’ The requester asked the instructor, “Have you heard of the reattachment, sir?” Only to be told he had heard of it, then he said, “Don’t hit him until you try it, Mr. Holden.”

“Later, a manager told the group about the inappropriate language and peer-to-peer comments, but the next day at a health and wellness conference, the applicant’s group was asked to provide a name. team and the plaintiff shouted “biters”.

Someone sat down in front of the claimant immediately told him that he shouldn’t have said so and the claimant was shocked as he thought it was a bit cheeky which was stupid as he knew what it was, but it had just been used in normal conversation that week.

“The instructor misheard her as ‘beggars’ and the recruit corrected her, spelled her out and at the end of the lecture, the provider went to apologize to the instructor.

He was upset that he had said an offensive word to her and that he could have made her uncomfortable.

“The requester then learned that an investigation would be conducted into inappropriate comments regarding the ‘connection’.”

Mr Holden was questioned along with other members of the group and did not understand the “seriousness of the term” until he searched for it three days later, the court said.

Judge Doyle added: “He confirmed that he said ‘pegs’ as a potential quiz team name, and that he was stupid for doing so.

“The station manager was of the opinion that everyone except Mr. Holden took responsibility for their actions, had remorse and, she believed, would be able to demonstrate these values ​​in her future. employment with the defendant service.

“In his view, the Applicant’s lack of honesty and his attempts to downplay what he had done during the investigation and disciplinary hearing were in fact separate and additional violations of the Respondent’s values.

“She considered him to have shown a lack of integrity, showed that he could not be trusted and showed a lack of respect towards the defendant service and the disciplinary proceedings in no” being not honest.

“His lack of remorse and his acceptance of wrongdoing,” she said, “also meant that he was less likely to change his behavior in the future. So there would be the possibility that he again violates values ​​in some way, making him an unsuitable employee. “

In a statement, Mr Holden said: “While I was certainly naive during the days we are discussing, I was by no means dishonest or evasive at any time, as evidenced by my immediate and full admission of my role in each of the circumstances involved.

“I was the only one fired and the increased severity of my treatment seems to be based on the fact that I didn’t show so much remorse and emotion.

“ I confirmed from the start that I knew it was sexual activity, and I knew and accepted that it was stupid to say it, and for that reason I apologized to the instructor immediately at the end of the conference, but I didn’t understand the seriousness of the comment when I said it until after Friday night.

“There is no dishonesty in my case – the severity of my dismissal is far too severe.”

LFRS said Mr Holden was fired after being deemed to have shown “a lack of honesty” and “no remorse” during an investigation into his conduct, which constituted “separate and additional violations of service values ​​”.

The other recruits were spared only by the dismissal because their joke on the “connection” had taken place outside working hours and was thus considered “less serious”.

Bob Warren, Director of Human Resources and Development at LFRS, said: “The Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service is pleased that the court has accepted the result of our internal investigation.

“The department strives to maintain a safe and positive environment for all staff and we have a set of values ​​to help us achieve this. When an employee does not meet the standards we have set, we will take appropriate action. . “

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