London Fire Brigade staff reported a ‘toxic’ culture, bullying and discrimination, shock watchdog report finds

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The London Fire Brigade Commissioner Andy Coe said he “accepted we have a lot more to do”, as he vowed to eradicate bullying.

“Deep-seated” problems remain in the London Fire Brigade, a watchdog has found.

An independent report released today ruled the LFB requires improvement, including training staff for terrorist attacks, and inaction over discrimination and bullying.

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The findings came as part of an investigation by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS).

The report said some staff reported a “toxic” and “pack-like” culture, and that there was “slow progress” on providing facilities for women.

LFB was described by the watchdog as “determined to improve”, drawing praise for its recent response to the heatwave.

The brigade’s commissioner Andy Coe said he “accepted we have a lot more to do”, as he vowed to eradicate bullying.

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“I will not tolerate any form of bullying or hostility towards anyone, it is my aim to eradicate this kind of behaviour from the brigade,” he said.

Firefighters in Wennington during the recent heatwave. Photo: GettyFirefighters in Wennington during the recent heatwave. Photo: Getty
Firefighters in Wennington during the recent heatwave. Photo: Getty | Getty Images

‘Intent to improve – but no better service’

Across each of its three main areas of inspection, LFB was found to require improvement.

This covered efficiency and effectiveness in keeping people safe from fires, and looking after its workforce.

In 2019 the brigade was also ruled as requiring improvement.

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Its leadership was said by HMICFRS to have demonstrated “intent” to address problems from the previous inspection, but hadn’t translated that into actual change.

Matt Parr, inspector of fire and rescue services, said: “Compared to our initial inspection in December 2019, there is a different atmosphere in the London Fire Brigade, and a leadership which recognises the scale of its challenges and is determined to improve.

“However, this has not yet been matched by wide scale improvements and a conspicuously better service to the public of London.”

In the report Mr Parr criticised LFB’s failure to prioritise fire safety visits at people’s homes, citing “inconsistent results” from staff not adequately identifying individuals most at risk.

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Firefighters attend a burning building in London’s Trafalgar Square on July 12, 2022Firefighters attend a burning building in London’s Trafalgar Square on July 12, 2022
Firefighters attend a burning building in London’s Trafalgar Square on July 12, 2022 | Getty Images

‘Worrying examples of gender and racial discrimination’

The watchdog said some staff do not feel confident to challenge colleagues’ behaviour, “often for fear of detrimental treatment by others”.

“While the Brigade is committed to developing a more diverse workforce, some staff said they had seen discriminatory treatment,” the watchdog said.

In a staff survey of 1,319 people, 15% said they had suffered bullying or harassment, and 18% had experienced discrimination.

“Worryingly, some examples of this behaviour were directed at people because of their gender or race,” the report said.

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“We were also concerned to find that these incidences were often left unchallenged for fear of repercussion.”

In 2020/21, 16.7% of the brigade’s overall workforce identified as being from an ethnic minority background, compared to 40.2% of the local population.

The inspection said LFB doesn’t have enough staff with the right skills in several areas, pointing to a shortage of staff who can drive fire engines.

Firefighters take part in a Grenfell Tower tributeFirefighters take part in a Grenfell Tower tribute
Firefighters take part in a Grenfell Tower tribute | Getty Images

‘Good progress in some areas’

LFB has faced criticism in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire which killed 72 people.

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After carrying out safety audits at more than 8,517 high-rise blocks in London, the fire service has implemented 26 of the 29 recommendations from the tragedy’s inquiry, which started in 2018.

Its final report is still yet to be published.

Citing positive changes, Mr Parr added: “In some areas, there has been good progress.

“For example, in 2018 we were very worried about training for staff in risk‑critical skills, such as incident command and emergency fire engine driving.

“The LFB has turned this round, and it is no longer a cause of concern.”

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The inspector added: “I am assured that the Brigade is committed to improving and will continue to monitor its progress closely.”

LFB chief Andy Roe, left, with Prince William on Emergency Services Day. Photo: GettyLFB chief Andy Roe, left, with Prince William on Emergency Services Day. Photo: Getty
LFB chief Andy Roe, left, with Prince William on Emergency Services Day. Photo: Getty | POOL/AFP via Getty Images

‘I will not tolerate bullying’

Mr Roe, LFB commissioner, said his organisation owes it to Londoners to improve its services to make them feel safe at home.

“I accept that we have a lot more to do and I am committed to driving forward the necessary changes,” he said.

“We are at the start of a long journey and fundamental change in large, complex organisations takes time.

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“Change needs to start from within and it is my aim to ensure that staff feel comfortable and safe in their place of work.

“I will not tolerate any form of bullying or hostility towards anyone, it is my aim to eradicate this kind of behaviour from the brigade.

“Our staff have been working tirelessly to improve our working practices and adopt new policies so that we can provide a better service to the communities of London.”

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan (C) addresses the media. Photo: GettyMayor of London Sadiq Khan (C) addresses the media. Photo: Getty
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan (C) addresses the media. Photo: Getty | AFP via Getty Images

‘Changes will save lives’

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said he welcomed the findings and is satisfied that LFB recognises the “scale of the task at hand”.

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“Huge changes to policies, procedures and equipment since the mayor appointed a new fire commissioner mean that London Fire Brigade are now better prepared and equipped to fight fires and keep all Londoners safe,” Mr Khan said.

“These changes were necessary and will help save lives.”

The mayor said that “despite the progress, there is still much more to do.”

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