London fire brigade (LFB) has been placed into special measures by the chief fire inspector after a report revealing incidents of misogyny, racism and bullying.
The watchdog moved the LFB into an enhanced level of monitoring on Wednesday, citing concerns about “culmulative evidence” from its last inspection and later of unacceptable behaviour within the brigade.
His Majesty’s inspector of fire and rescue services, Matt Parr, said: “We should recognise that London fire brigade’s recent cultural review was commissioned by the brigade, whose leadership has accepted its findings without reservation.
“However, it is clear that the behavioural problems we highlighted earlier this year are deep-seated and have not improved. We will now examine London fire brigade’s improvement plans more frequently and more intrusively, and work closely with the brigade to monitor its progress.”
In November, an independent report on the culture at the UK’s largest firefighting and rescue organisation revealed deep resistance to women being firefighters, with female officers groped, beaten and having their helmets filled with urine.
One female firefighter said she advised female friends not to allow male firefighters in their houses for fire safety checks, as they raided drawers in search of underwear and sex toys that they would use as evidence they were “sluts”.
People of colour reported racist slurs being casually used. Incidents cited in the report included a black firefighter who had a noose put over his locker and a Muslim colleague who had bacon and sausages stuffed in his pockets and a terrorist hotline sign posted on his locker.
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.
Nazir Afzal, the former chief prosecutor who conducted the review, labelled the brigade “institutionally misogynist and racist”.
His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS), which monitors the performance of all fire and rescue services in England, said the values and behaviours to which the brigade aspires were not always demonstrated by senior leaders, and that it needed to demonstrate progress in improving its culture.
The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, welcomed the “additional scrutiny and support the HMICFRS will provide to the deep-rooted cultural reform that has already started within the London fire brigade”.
He said this would require “huge changes to policies, procedures and equipment” and that there was “still much more to do” to improve standards and rebuild public confidence.
He noted that there had been promising steps, including the appointment of Andy Roe as a reforming commissioner and the recent cultural review, along with a new independent service to investigate complaints and a landmark pilot in which crews would wear body-worn cameras.
He said: “The commissioner and I both agree that all of the review’s recommendations and findings must be acted upon with urgency and conviction to rebuild public trust and the confidence of LFB staff and firefighters who have been failed for far too long.
“I will continue to support and hold the fire commissioner to account on delivering a brigade that is trusted to serve and protect London, fit for the challenges of modern firefighting, and a workplace where Londoners of all backgrounds can thrive.”
Roe said: “I recognised that LFB’s culture needed to improve, which is why I commissioned the independent culture review and took immediate actions when it was published last month.
“Our external complaints service is supporting colleagues, and a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination, harassment and bullying means all staff know what behaviours aren’t tolerated.
“Change is happening now, and the face-to-face meetings I’ve been having with firefighters and other staff shows there is a passion to make sure our culture works for everyone.
“We welcome the additional support as part of the inspectorate’s enhanced monitoring programme and I look forward to working with them and other partners to monitor progress and change in the future.”