London fire brigade is reviewing its relationship with the Freemasons after concerns were raised by the Fire Brigades Union, the Guardian has learned.
At the meeting, Gareth Beeton, the FBU’s London region chair, highlighted the brigade’s acceptance of a £2.5m donation from the Freemasons of London for specialist equipment, which became operational in November 2021. Masonic insignia appears on the sides of two fire engines that carry aerial ladders funded by the Freemasons’ donation.
Beeton said the union had raised concerns about the donation when it was made and was now doing so again after the review.
He has called for the masonic insignia to be removed because of the exclusion of women from much Masonic work and the fact that it is a secret society.
“The union’s women’s action committee is backing this,” he said. “The fire service is a public sector organisation and should not be funded by organisations like this one.”
LFB said officials were “considering our options for this relationship now”.
The review of LFB’s culture was ordered by the London fire commissioner, Andy Roe, in response to the death of Jaden Matthew Francois-Esprit, a firefighter who was neurodiverse and had been diagnosed with dyslexia, who took his own life aged 21 in August 2020.
Published in November 2022, it found the service to be “institutionally misogynist and racist” and said there were “dangerous levels of ingrained prejudice against women” and that people of colour were “frequently the target of racist abuse”.
At the time of the Freemasons’ donation, Roe said: “I am proud of this partnership with Freemasons of London and I am glad to say as a Londoner myself, and now representing LFB as commissioner, I am overwhelmed with your generosity for what these turntable ladders will do; not only for my officers in terms of their excellent operational capability, but also for the people of London.”
A fire brigade spokesperson said: “Accepting donations of funding for equipment from charitable organisations is not unusual for the emergency services and the London Freemasons have also supported other emergency services in the capital. However, we are aware that this issue was raised by a number of staff following the brigade’s recent independent culture review and we are therefore considering our options for this relationship now.”
A spokesperson for the United Grand Lodge of England said: “The United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) condemns without reservation any wrongdoing which has been highlighted in the recent independent culture review of London fire brigade. In regards to the London fire brigade, Freemasons from across London came together in 2019 to raise £2.5m for the purchase of two super hi-lift turntable vehicles, which have already made a significant impact in the work of the London fire brigade to protect citizens.”
He added that there were two women-only Grand Lodges, and that men and women worked closely together in a number of areas.