A “Toxic” Culture In the Essex Fire And Rescue Service




A review into life inside the Essex Fire And Rescue Service has jutst been published – and is pretty grim reading, showing a ‘toxic’ culture of bullying and other serious problems as well.
You can download the whole report here. Here are some extracts:

1. Essex County Fire and Rescue Service (ECFRS) has been beset by a number of serious incidents
including the suicides of two serving firefighters, allegations of bullying and intimidation, and ongoing
and protracted industrial disputes.

2. The cumulative effect of all these issues, and the long-term absence of the Chief Fire Officer,
has contributed to paralysis of the service and made it more challenging for ECFRS to make the
necessary organisational changes to become a fire service fit for the twenty-first century.

3. Essex Fire and Rescue Authority (FRA) decided to take decisive action and approached Irene Lucas
CBE, an experienced reviewer, former local authority chief executive and Director General ? and
Acting Permanent Secretary ? at the Department for Communities and Local Government, to carry
out a formal inquiry into the causes of incidents that may have contributed to the above.

14. Culturally, Essex County Fire and Rescue Service is a failing organisation. From its leadership to
the frontline, the service is in urgent need of a radical overhaul to ensure that it is held to account,
and becomes more adaptable to the needs of the twenty-first century, and ensures the safety and
wellbeing of its employees.

15. The organisational culture in ECFRS is toxic. There is dangerous and pervasive bullying and
intimidation and this may place employees and the communities that they serve at risk.
16. Even in more senior, corporate positions aggressive and inappropriate behaviour is commonplace,
but it is worse in some fire stations. Rotation between watches and stations is very low to almost
non-existent and this lack of movement has allowed a minority of malignant and vexatious long-
serving individuals to dominate their watches, with negative consequences.

17. In the course of gathering evidence for this review it was often said that ?what goes on on station,
stays on station?, and that the ?Old Hands? within the service exert a deeply malign influence over
anyone who attempts to challenge existing attitudes. Indeed, the cliquishness of the watch culture
exacerbates these challenges, where loyalty is to the ?watch? first, then the station second, with the
service as a whole (and any strategic goals it may have) a distant third.

18. There is an appetite for change across the board; firefighters are tired of industrial action and loss
of earnings, the lack of trust means that they feel at an impasse, but are fearful of recrimination and
ostracisation and lack of support and therefore will not speak out. Talented middle and front line
managers feel that they are caught between trying to cope with the torrent of policies, procedures
and processes whilst ?trying to keep the troops happy?.

19. There is no sense of one team united behind a common goal. There is a ?them and us? sub-culture
of distrust at so many different levels ? between management and staff, management and trades
unions (and between different trades unions) and a divide between full time and on call firefighters
and uniformed and non-uniformed colleagues.

22. It is clear that despite the challenges in the service, ECFRS is fortunate that many of its staff remain
proud to work here and are totally dedicated to keeping the residents of Essex safe. ?We are a
collection of people who really care about what we do? was a typical remark encountered in the
course of this Cultural Review; ?We have a brand that is built on strength, honour, trust and heroes.
If we are not careful we will lose all that has been earned by generations of firefighters?. This is a
precious inheritance that must not be squandered.

112.There was some evidence from the interviews and in the workshops that the extremely physical
hard-line initiations have stopped. Previously physical aggression towards new recruits being
?beasted? ? ?tied up and put in a pit ? with water up to your nose? and being pulled across carpets
until you had carpet burns on your face? ? and physical humiliation of being made to stand naked
while genitalia is measured etc. no longer happens, although equally unacceptable behaviour
continues with mistakes, or perceived mistakes, being punished by physical intimidation such as
repeated slapping on the head by watch members.

However, there have been continued instances of damage to and sullying of personal property,
the abusive use of the word ?Scab? and even criminal activity such as blocking fire appliances,
obstructing the Police and causing damage to the Authority?s and personal property.

Yet as part of dispute settlements there have been regular ?amnesty? agreements whereby the Authority
has agreed either not to take disciplinary action or to exonerate those already subject to disciplinary sanctions.
A more positive and consistent application of the zero tolerance policy introduced in 2012 would remedy this.

113.More importantly there was overwhelming evidence of serious psychological intimidation of those
who had fallen out of favour with the trades unions or were not welcome on the watch. This
includes repeated sexual innuendoes about the victim, being ostracised, not being able to use the
mess room, finding their food had been spat in – or worse and other degrading behaviours.

About the author, admin

  • This report clearly shows how ineptly the Essex Fire & Rescue Service has been run and demonstrates their failure to manage change. Yet that same management team are currently consulting on restructuring [i.e. reducing] fire services despite admitting that existing response times are well below target. Even if they should identify the ‘right’ solution, how can anyone have confidence in their ability to manage significant change?
    Something has to change!

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