The London Fire Brigade was found to be ‘institutionally misogynistic and racist’ in a damning independent report.
Reports ranging from women being groped to people with urine-filled helmets feature in the extensive review, which examined the culture of England’s largest fire and rescue service.
Led by Nazir Afzal, former Chief Crown Prosecutor for the North West, the magazine exposed racism, misogyny, bullying and prejudice and warned the organization it “must do more to protect its people”.
It reveals incidents such as a black firefighter being racially bullied, culminating in someone placing a fake noose over his locker.
The review also refers to a Muslim firefighter who was bullied for his faith and whose colleagues put bacon in his sandwich. The consumption of pork is prohibited in Islam.
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.
The report says her team heard stories of women being groped during training exercises and enduring daily sexist abuse, often euphemized as “jokes.”
Many were routinely referred to as “women” by colleagues, while some were even punched and assaulted, according to the report.
The report also referred to cases of men viewing pornography in fire stations.
“Any close inspection of some fire stations shows a watch culture, where men are sometimes huddled around a screen watching porn, that belongs to the last century,” he said.
The report referred to women having their uniforms urinated on and men keeping diaries of when they suspected women were having periods and told them they “didn’t want to be around women who bled.”
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.
Afzal said other brigades should take note, writing in his conclusion: “The exposure of workplace injury in one of the largest fire and rescue organizations in the world should put other brigades on notice.
“Because while London’s public services are very much in the spotlight right now, I have no doubt that similar cultural issues exist in other fire services across the country.”
Afzal added: “Culture starts at the top – and it has to be said that the commissioner is seen as part of the solution, but seen by many as an isolated figure who is not fully supported by those around him.
“It will be important for his new management team to be visibly committed to culture change and support the Commissioner in his mission.
“It won’t be enough to set up an internal program to bring about change, but the commissioner must lead it himself for it to have credibility.
“It needs to be properly funded and supported. LFB is an organization dedicated and committed to keeping people safe and supporting them when they need help most.
“But it needs to do more to protect its people and give them the help they need to experience dignity in the workplace and be able to thrive in a job they love.”
The report, which makes 23 recommendations, is based on the experiences of hundreds of staff members. It was leaked on Friday night, ahead of its publication.
The review was instituted by 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 was being bullied because of his race, the report said.
In his conclusion, Afzal said: “Unless a toxic culture that allows bullying and abuse to be normalized is addressed, I fear that, like Jaden, other firefighters will tragically take their own lives.
“This review needs to be a game changer, not just a talking point. Everyone working for emergency services should be guaranteed dignity at work. This is the minimum that is due to him.
Mr Roe said: “Today is a very reassuring day. In the brigade there is no place for discrimination, harassment and bullying and from today it will be completely clear to all personnel what behavior is not acceptable and what the consequences will be.
“I am deeply sorry for the damage that has been caused. I will be fully responsible for improving our culture and fully accept all 23 recommendations.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said the review contains “repugnant” details and “must be nothing short of a watershed moment for London firefighters”.
“Londoners, including firefighters and other staff, have been let down by those who should have supported them have every right to be angry, as I am,” he said on Friday.
“I fully supported the Fire Commissioner, Andy Roe, in commissioning this review and we both agree that all of his recommendations and findings must be implemented with urgency and conviction to rebuild public confidence and the confidence of the LFB and fire brigade personnel who have failed for too long.”
Mr Khan said he was confident Mr Roe recognizes the scale of the problems and is the right person to lead the “needed profound reform of culture and systems within the brigade”.
He added, “The Fire Commissioner knows he has my full support in making the significant and needed changes.
“Some of that work has already begun with a new independent team investigating complaints and committing to examining firefighters’ interactions with the public through body-worn video. But we need to do more and calmly”.