Staff report bullying, harassment and discrimination in every fire and rescue service

Staff reported allegations of bullying, harassment and discrimination in every fire and rescue service in England – and recent headlines about misconduct may be just the tip of the iceberg, the fire inspectorate has warned.

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Values and culture in fire and rescue services

A new report from His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services calls for appropriate background checks on all firefighters and staff and new misconduct standards to be introduced, including a national barred list and new mechanisms for staff to raise concerns.

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, with some significantly worse than others. The sector was called a “boys’ club” and people said they felt unable to report bad behaviour for fear of reprisals. One person said their “card would be marked” if they raised concerns and another described it as “career suicide”.

Examples of bullying and harassment uncovered by inspectors include:

  • a senior officer referring to a Black colleague using the ‘n-word’ and putting it down to “having a laugh”;
  • two male firefighters joking with a female firefighter that they were “going to rape her”, and the three of them acting out the rape together; and
  • homophobic abuse found written on a firefighter’s locker.

His Majesty’s Inspector of Fire & Rescue Services Roy Wilsher said:

“Our findings shine a light on deeply troubling bullying and harassment in fire and rescue services across the country – and I fear this could be just the tip of the iceberg.

“Firefighters can be called upon to do an incredibly difficult job. They should be able to trust each other implicitly, just as the public need to be able to trust them. Unfortunately, our findings show this is not always the case. Instead, we found trust and respect is too often replaced with derogatory, bullying behaviour, often excused as banter.

“Services told us about misconduct cases over the past 12 months. More than half of these concerned inappropriate behaviour, such as bullying and harassment, associated with a protected characteristic. This is shocking enough but I am not confident that this is even the whole picture.

“The sector needs to get a grip on how it handles misconduct matters – staff should feel able to report allegations without fear of reprisals, and any fire and rescue staff found to have committed gross misconduct should be placed on a national barred list to protect other services and the public.

“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 we found an inconsistent approach to this across the country. We’re calling for appropriate background checks on existing and new staff as a bare minimum.

“The majority of fire and rescue staff act with integrity and we are in no doubt of their dedication to the public. However, the shocking behaviour we uncovered makes it clear the sector cannot wait another day before it acts. We have made 35 recommendations and would urge chief fire officers, the government and national fire bodies to implement them as a matter of urgency.”

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Values and culture in fire and rescue services


  1. For further information, the HMICFRS Press Office can be contacted at 0300 071 6781 or