Union bosses say a report highlighting failings in how Northamptonshire Fire & Rescue Service looks after its people is “utterly devastating”.
The Fire Brigades Union added that members face “bullying, harassment, and discrimination” and that retiring Chief Fire Officer Darren Dovey should be “ashamed of the legacy he is leaving behind”.
It claims firefighters “dare not raise issues” with their bosses and claimed some are unable to safely respond to emergencies because they are “running on empty”. Mr Dovey responded said firefighters were asked to work additional hours during the pandemic and the safety and welfare of firefighters is “paramount”.
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Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector for Fire & Rescue Services, Roy Wilsher, said the service “requires improvement” in areas including equality, diversity and inclusion, and crews working excessive hours — which the union claims has left firefighters “running on empty”.
County Fire Commissioner Stephen Mold admitted there is “much work that needs to be done.”
But Ben Selby, Fire Brigades Union executive council member for the East Midlands, said: “This report is utterly devastating for the heads of Northamptonshire Fire & Rescue Service.
“They’ve left their employees in a situation where they are subjected to bullying, harassment, and discrimination.
“It is absolutely unacceptable. The fact that firefighters dare not raise issues only adds to what is an utterly awful situation.”
Mr Wilsher praised the service improvement and overall direction, grading it good in all nine areas of efficiency and effectiveness compared to just one in the previous inspection three years ago.
But the FBU highlighted parts of the report which revealed 24 percent of Northamptonshire staff surveyed admitted facing discrimination during the previous 12 months.
■ READ the HMCIFRS report in full HERE
It added that just 25 percent of the staff who suffered discrimination or harassment believed that reporting their concerns would lead to a meaningful response.
Mark Jones will take over as Chief Fire Officer when Mr Dovey retires in October, although the union raised concerns over his previous record after the appointment was confirmed earlier this month.
Mr Selby added: “We are pleased that the current Chief Fire Officer Darren Dovey is about to depart.
“Although we don’t have confidence that the incoming chief will improve matters, Mr Dovey is leaving behind a legacy he should be ashamed of.
“Exhausted firefighters are not able to safely respond to emergencies.
“For years now we have been raising this, all to no avail.
“Unfortunately, Mr Dovey has continued to use his firefighters as commodities, increasing the risk they are exposed to by running them to empty.”
In response Mr Dovey said: “During the pandemic we asked firefighters to work additional hours to provide cover and to support the wider community response to Covid-19. We are one of the few Fire and Rescue Services recruiting additional firefighters and in fact, the HMICFRS report states that we have “a positive culture of health and safety management”.
“There is of course always more to do. The safety and welfare of our firefighters and staff is of paramount importance to us and their fantastic efforts to serve the community are what has resulted in the improvements in performance that the Inspectors have found in Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service.”
Following publication of Mr Wilsher’s report, Mr Mold said: “I am disappointed by what HMICFRS had to say about values and inclusion and there is clearly much work that needs to be done in that area.
"I know the Chief Fire Officer and his team will be as disappointed as I am in the report’s findings, and I know they will be working just as hard to create a better culture as they have done to improve efficiency and effectiveness.
“I expect to see plans in place to improve the culture as soon as possible. I will also be looking for opportunities for further collaboration with Northamptonshire Police as both organisations work to build trust and confidence across the board.”