The London Fire Commissioner acknowledged that the organization is institutionally racist and misogynistic and promised that change “starts now”.
It comes after an independent review by the capital’s fire brigade found the organization had a “toxic culture”, with reports ranging from women being groped to people having helmets filled with urine.
The review, led by Nazir Afzal, former chief crown prosecutor for the North West, contains further shocking incidents such as a black firefighter being racially bullied which culminated in someone placing a fake noose over his locker.
The report also refers to a Muslim firefighter who was bullied for his faith and had his colleagues put bacon in his sandwich.
Andy Roe told BBC Radio 4’s Today program was “horrified” to read the damning report, adding: “I think there will be many of my staff, honest and upstanding civil servants, who will be equally horrified. Yes, heartbroken indeed.
Asked if he agreed with the magazine’s claim that the brigade is institutionally misogynistic and racist, he said: “I think when 2,000 of your staff wrote that story you can’t deny any of that. I fully accept the report, I accept all the recommendations.
“There will be a change and the change starts now.”
He insisted that the public can trust his brigade because no evidence of “operational fanaticism” has been found, meaning no “discrimination in how we conduct our response”.
“Regarding our response, when a member of the public dials 999 will they get an entirely equal and fair response no matter who it is? Yes, I’m confident we will,” she said.
Over a 10-month period, a team of seven led by Mr. Afzal collected evidence of what people experienced in their work environment and the wider culture that supported it.
A female firefighter told the review that the threshold for bullying is so high “you’d have to gouge someone’s eyes out to get fired,” adding, “Everything else is seen as jokes.”
She said she tells her friends not to let male firefighters into their homes to check fire alarms because she says they rummage through women’s drawers for underwear and sex toys.
In his conclusion, Mr. Afzal said: “My review found evidence to support the conclusion that LFB is institutionally misogynistic and racist.
“We found dangerous levels of ingrained prejudice against women, and the barriers faced by people of color 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, they were also frequently subjected to racial abuse.
“We also saw examples of how this was pushing some black people out of the brigade and there was evidence that talented people, engaged in public service, were being lost as a result.”
Mr Afzal said he wanted to draw an important distinction with similar problems experienced by the Metropolitan Police.
“Where there have been flagrant examples of police officers abusing power and allowing prejudice to shape their actions, we have not found the same level of operational bigotry,” he said.