The Race Equality Foundounation finds it abhorrent that yet another public service has been shown to be institutional racist on a monumental level. This time it’s the Fire Service. Stark examples of abject conduct have been revealed in a report by His Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services (HMICFRS).
Staff in every fire and rescue service in England have reported allegations of bullying, harassment and discrimination. The report further stresses that recent headlines about misconduct may be just the tip of the iceberg.
This latest report suggests little has changed in fire service culture since an earlier review in 2020 by HMICFRS, which highlighted a “toxic, bullying culture” and a lack of racial and gender diversity in fire services in England.
The new report, published just a little more than a week after Scotland Yard was condemned as guilty of institutional racism, misogyny and homophobia, is similarly critical.
Inspectors found examples of racist, homophobic and misogynistic behaviour in a quarter of fire and rescue services in England, with such behaviour often excused as banter. There were allegations of bullying in all services. The sector was called a “boys’ club” and people said they felt unable to report bad behaviour for fear of reprisals. The failure to address discrimination and harassment in the service goes right to the top – senior colleagues known to use derogatory language against Black people; and Black and other minority groups were more likely to experience bullying and harassment.
The report was also damning on levels of diversity in fire services in England. It branded five services as “cause for concern” on diversity. It was the “least ethnically diverse workforce” in the public sector, and this lack of diversity was inhibiting its ability to tackle cultural issues.
Recommendations in the report include appropriate background checks on all firefighters and staff, and new misconduct standards should be introduced, including a national barred list and new mechanisms for staff to raise concerns.
Despite the fact fire and rescue staff often have contact with the most vulnerable members of society, there is no legal obligation for services to run background checks and an inconsistent approach to checks was found across the country.
The report makes 35 recommendations, including fire services being tasked to review how they gather and use equality and diversity data to improve their understanding of staff demographics. The report urges chief fire officers, the government and national fire bodies to implement them as a matter of urgency. By 1 June 2023, chief fire officers should specify how they intend to improve diversity across all levels of the service. The Foundation will be watching closely to see what changes occur within fire and rescue services.