Sexual harassment complaints widespread in fire service, new data reveals

ITV News UK Editor Paul Brand reports on the sexual harrasment cases unconvered across many of the country's fire services

Warning: This story contains distressing content.

Sexual harassment cases have been discovered at almost half of fire services which responded to a freedom of information request by ITV News. 

All but one of the 22 services which provided data said they had dealt with gross misconduct cases over the past year. Of these, ten had dealt with allegations of sexual harassment. 

ITV News has previously exposed harassment and abuse of women at both South Wales Fire and Rescue Service and Dorset and Wiltshire Fire Service. 

Since then, women from 15 different services have come forward with claims that they too have been victims of gross misconduct. 

The data released to ITV News supports their claims that a culture of misogyny may be a widespread problem among the service. 

Tracy Lamb worked for Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service for four years. She told ITV News that as a trainee, she was targeted by a male manager who she ended up in a short relationship with. 

ITV News UK editor Paul Brand interviews a whistleblower. Credit: ITV News

After the relationship had ended, he continued to sexually harass her, including requesting sexual favours in return for career progression. 

She told us, "When I asked him about developing my career, he turned around and said well you know what the currency is around here, it's [sexual favours].

And this was said in front of other fire fighters as well. I'd asked for two last signatures to get my development folder finished and that would have made me a fully-fledged firefighter.

"He got up, walked behind me and I heard him undo his trousers. And then I turned around and he'd got his penis out. And I just couldn't believe what was going on." 

When Tracy complained to the service, the fire officer was cleared of any misconduct. 

It was only when police independently reviewed Tracy’s case and found that the fire officer had sexually harassed her that Northamptonshire Fire Service took action to demote and move him stations, before later allowing him to return to his original place of work. 

One whistleblower described firefighters as having a 'hero' complex. (File photo) Credit: ITV News

Tracy felt she had no choice but to leave the service herself.  

"I wouldn't say to any other female to stick your hand up and say this is what's going on. Nobody in their right mind would. Because it was hell basically. I lost my dream job. These senior officers or these people that have got rank over us, they need to be accountable for their behaviour." 

For the first time, ITV News has also spoken to a whistleblower who has recently worked within a human resources department at a fire service and regularly dealt with misconduct cases. 

She has asked to remain anonymous, but told us that the women who complained were often ignored or even subjected to disciplinary proceedings themselves.  

"They were either told to be silent, they were being stupid, they were told that it would be dealt with informally. Or they themselves were investigated,” she said. 

Our whistleblower alleges that the misconduct of male firefighters extended to members of the public, with women regularly objectified as part of what was nicknamed a ‘f**** run’.

"On the way back from a job or if they were going out and about, they would detour to go and look at women on a high street, to basically decide whether they would sleep with that woman.

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"It's known as different things in different parts of the country - the skin run, the f**** run, the women run, the s*** run. And it was just very uncomfortable knowing that members of the public were being judged." 

She told us that not a single male firefighter was dismissed for gross misconduct towards women in the time that she worked for the service. 

"I think it's the hero complex. The fire service arguably are heroes, they go into burning buildings. However, that hero complex has taken a step too far in that they feel they can't be touched,” she explained. 

There are already calls for a national inquiry into fire service culture across the country. 

Nazir Afzal, who carried out a review of London Fire Brigade last year, has dubbed the wave of allegations of misogyny and harassment in the fire service its ‘Me Too’ moment.

Earlier this month the Home Secretary acknowledged to ITV News that there was a cultural problem in some services. 

The culture in the Fire Service is coming under fresh scrunity, due to ITV News' reporting (File photo). Credit: ITV News

Responding to the claims made by Tracy Lamb, Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service told us that our interview included new allegations and the service would open a fresh investigation, and the service has referred the case to the police. 

 They say they will also review their disciplinary procedures.

Mark Jones, Chief Fire Officer of Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: “Inappropriate behaviour of any kind towards women is vile and must not be tolerated in Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service. We know we have much to do as a service to improve our culture and this must be a place where everyone is treated fairly and with respect. 

“We are reviewing our policies to ensure our disciplinary processes are fit for purpose and want women to have confidence that, when they raise complaints, they will be dealt with appropriately. 

“We are working hard to make clear to our staff the standards of behaviour expected of everyone who works here, and the consequences if someone falls short. The public put enormous trust in the fire service, and we must make sure we deserve that trust. 

“This is an urgent priority for us, and these are just some of the actions underway so that we root out any behaviour that is unacceptable, establish the highest standards and maintain the public’s confidence in us as a service.” 

National Fire Chiefs Council Chair Mark Hardingham said: “I am appalled by the recent reports into behaviours and culture in some fire and rescue services. These shocking behaviours have no place in a modern fire and rescue service.

“They need to stop - and stop now.

“Everyone has the right to go to work feeling safe, supported and respected in an organisation that values diversity, aspiration and fair challenge.”

If you have information about this story or others on the issue please contact us at investigations@itv.com

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