London fire service staff have spoken out about ‘toxic’ culture and bullying, watchdog says

London Fire Commissioner Andy Coe said he “accepts that we have a lot more to do” as he is committed to eradicating bullying.

An independent report published today ruled that the LFB needed improvements, including training staff for terrorist attacks and inaction in the face of discrimination and intimidation.

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The findings were made as part of an investigation by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Police and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS).

The report said some staff reported a “toxic” and “pack-like” culture, and that there was “slow progress” in providing facilities for women.

The LFB have been described by the watchdog as “committed to improving”, praising their recent response to the heatwave.

Squad commissioner Andy Coe said he “accepts that we have a lot more to do” as he is committed to stamping out bullying.

“I will not tolerate any form of intimidation or hostility towards anyone, my goal is to eradicate this kind of behavior from the brigade, he said.

Wennington firefighters during the recent heat wave. Photo: Getty

“Intention to improve – but not better service”

In each of its three main inspection areas, LFB was found to need improvement.

This covered the efficiency and effectiveness of protecting people from fire and taking care of its workforce.

In 2019, the brigade was also deemed in need of improvement.

According to the HMICFRS, its leaders demonstrated their “intent” to address the issues of the previous inspection, but failed to translate this into real change.

Matt Parr, Fire and Rescue Services Inspector, said: ‘Compared to our initial inspection in December 2019, there is a different atmosphere in London Fire and management that recognizes the scale of its challenges and is determined to improve.

“However, this has yet to be accompanied by large-scale improvements and demonstrably better service to the London public.”

In the report, Mr Parr criticized the LFB’s failure to prioritize fire safety visits to people’s homes, citing ‘inconsistent results’ from staff not correctly identifying those most at risk.

Firefighters attend a burning building in Trafalgar Square in London on July 12, 2022

“Disturbing examples of gender and racial discrimination”

The watchdog said some staff did not feel confident challenging the behavior of colleagues, “often out of fear of being mistreated by others”.

“While the Brigade is committed to developing a more diverse workforce, some staff have reported experiencing discriminatory treatment,” the watchdog said.

In a staff survey of 1,319 people, 15% said they had experienced bullying or harassment, and 18% had experienced discrimination.

“Worryingly, some examples of this behavior were directed at people because of their gender or race,” the report said.

“We were also concerned that these incidents often went unchallenged for fear of repercussions.”

In 2020/21, 16.7% of the brigade’s overall strength identified as being from an ethnic minority background, compared to 40.2% of the local population.

The inspection revealed that the LFB did not have enough staff with the required skills in several areas, pointing to a shortage of personnel capable of driving fire engines.

Firefighters take part in a tribute at Grenfell Tower

“Good progress in some areas”

The LFB came under fire following the Grenfell Tower fire which killed 72 people.

After carrying out safety audits at more than 8,517 high-rise buildings in London, firefighters have implemented 26 of the 29 recommendations from the inquiry into the tragedy, which began in 2018.

Its final report has not yet been published.

Citing positive changes, Mr. Parr added: “In some areas there has been good progress.

“For example, in 2018 we were very concerned about training staff in critical skills, such as incident handling and emergency fire truck driving.

“The LFB has turned things around, and it’s no longer a cause for concern.”

The inspector added: “I am confident that the Brigade is committed to improving and will continue to monitor its progress closely.”

LFB chief Andy Roe, left, with Prince William at Emergency Services Day. Photo: Getty

“I will not tolerate bullying”

Mr Roe, commissioner of the LFB, said his organization owes it to Londoners to improve its services to make them feel safe at home.

“I accept that we still have a lot to do and I am committed to pushing the necessary changes forward,” he said.

“We are at the start of a long journey and fundamental change in large, complex organizations takes time.

“Change has to start from within and my goal is to make staff feel comfortable and safe in their workplace.

“I will not tolerate any form of intimidation or hostility towards anyone, my goal is to eradicate this kind of behavior from the brigade.

“Our staff have worked tirelessly to improve our working practices and adopt new policies so that we can provide a better service to communities in London.”

London Mayor Sadiq Khan (C) speaks to the media. Photo: Getty

“The changes will save lives”

London Mayor Sadiq Khan welcomed the findings and is pleased that the LFB recognizes “the magnitude of the task ahead”.

“Huge changes to policies, procedures and equipment since the Mayor appointed a new Fire Commissioner mean London’s firefighters are now better prepared and equipped to fight fires and keep all Londoners safe. said Mr. Khan.

“These changes were necessary and will help save lives.

The mayor said that “despite the progress, there is still a lot to do”.