Having instigated an independent review of his service, Chief Fire Officer Huw Jakeway confirmed he is to retire and leave his successor to manage the fall out from a report that finds South Wales Fire and Rescue service has a ‘patriarchal mentality’ with ‘sexist and misogynistic behaviours.’
Fenella Morris KC was commissioned in February 2023 to carry out a wide ranging review of the service after the media reported bullying and harassment in the service.
“Listening to people, and reading thousands of documents, we have learned of serious failings in the Service’s policies, procedures, and systems, and real suffering on the part of those affected by the poor behaviour of others.”
The 185 page report includes a litany of problems in the service from bullying and harassment through social media abuse, firefighters in uniform on the adult site Only Fans, favouritism based on sporting prowess, freemasonry, nepotism, preferential promotion treatment, drug and alcohol abuse and it goes on.
“We find that inappropriate behaviours exist within the Service from the top down.”
Bullying within watches includes incidents involving demeaning names being written on lockers, and food and toothbrushes being tampered with; the report also describes homophobic views and comments being unchallenged.
“There appears to be a general perception that a watch is, or at least should be, a self-policing environment in which unacceptable behaviour is called out and acted upon internally, by other members of the watch.”
It is not just fire stations where the review finds poor behaviours, it says that members of fire control include some of those who are most unhappy and many feel ‘forgotten’ with low morale.
There are examples of inappropriate use of WhatsApp by men to harass women; WhatsApp groups that contain ‘extremely offensive comments and grossly inappropriate material’ and sharing of ‘sexually explicit images, images of graphic violence, and sexist comments.’
“The mistreatment of others, but particularly women, is a serious problem area for the Service, and it is not currently being adequately addressed.”
In a section on social media, the report describes the use of OnlyFans by firefighters ‘to post sexualised images of themselves alongside images that make clear their membership of the Service.’ The Service’s response to this misconduct has been confused, it says, and ‘damaging to trust and confidence within and outside the Service.’
The service has adopted a Code of Ethics found in many services but finds that ‘they are currently just words on a wall.’
The report says there are some positive aspects including a ‘universal commitment to service of the community’ and an ‘excellent occupational health service.’ These are far outweighed by the negative aspects that cite lack of diversity, poor communications, lack of transparency in promotional processes, tolerance of poor behaviours and a process to allow people to speak up.
The review team received hundreds of emails, held 150 interviews, visited 11 stations and fire control where they spoke to over 150 people, held five focus groups and received over 450 responses to a confidential staff survey. They trawled through dozens of extant policies, reviewed grievance, complaints and disciplinary case files.
“It was immediately apparent when we commenced the Review, and a continuing theme throughout, that there was a real lack of trust throughout the Service and, accordingly, in the Review process more generally.”
The report notes that staff are sceptical that the review will make any difference and a lack of transparency was one of the most frequently made complaints about the SWFRS culture.
South Wales Fire and Rescue Service comprises 1200 firefighters, half of whom are on-call; and 375 non-operational staff. Just 8 per cent of firefighters are women. Only 17 members of staff identify as coming from an ethnic minority. 12 staff identify as LGBTQ. The report looks in detail at the composition and behaviours of the senior leadership team and the way that information is ‘filtered’ to the top of the organisation.
“The low number of people from under-represented groups is detrimental to the Service’s culture overall. A lack of diversity within the workforce leads to a lack of understanding and respect for people from different backgrounds.”
A substantial section of the report is focused on policies and finds problems throughout, concluding that the ‘Service would benefit from a complete overhaul of its policies and procedures to make them more streamlined and accessible.’ Training is also found to be inadequate.
There are many recommendations in the report which are phased over a period of 3-18 months. CFO Jakeway said in his in accompanying letter to the report, where he confirmed his retirement, that he accepted them all adding, ‘For those who have had negative experiences of the Service, I am profoundly sorry. There is no place for inappropriate behaviour within South Wales Fire and Rescue Service.’
The full report can be found on the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service website along with CFO Jakeway’s letter.