The LFB Review of Culture: A quick blog…

Someone I spoke with today spent nearly 5 years in a Fire Service but took 15 years to get over it. She told me that the actions of her colleagues left her suicidal and fighting a system that wanted her out, at any cost. She wanted to call into the LBC discussion today to share her experiences but could not as she has signed an NDA.

I haven’t written in many months for a myriad of reasons, but the LFB Review of culture and hearing this story has compelled me to write a short blog.

Here are five reflections.

This is an outstanding cultural review that other organisations and central / local government departments in housing and the built environment should emulate.

Nazir Afzal and his team have done an extraordinary job in articulating the stories and voices of those involved in the review, and come up with recommendations that could enable lasting change.

There have been calls by members of other organisations such as the BBC and NHS to conduct similar reviews. This level of resonance by those impacted by misogynist and racist behaviours in other institutions is indicative of the quality of the report.

Contrast this response to the suicide of Jaden Matthew Francois-Esprit with the response by the government, built environment and housing sectors post Grenfell. There is much talk of the need for culture change but, to my knowledge, no reviews of this nature have been done by any parties. Rather we have nicely worded charters that seem to have little impact, and the focus of any research seems to be on residents through simplistic online questionaires.

I hope this becomes an exemplar about how to explore culture and we will now see local authorities and housing associations conducting this kind of review to expose the darker sides of cultures that silence voices and have resulted in the deaths of so many, most recently 2-year old Awaab Ishak

It took enormous courage to commission a report with this scope and LFB Commissioner Andy Roe should be commended for doing so.

I have had the privilege of working with leadership teams confronting the darker sides of their organisational cultures. I have am always moved by the courage it takes to be willing to look in the mirror in this way.

To do so in such a public way and is an act of courage and a demonstration of true leadership.

The fact that Nazir Afzal was given the scope to explore and write such a damning report leaves me with the hope that real change is possible.

There are clear sub-cultures in the LFB and I hope everyone is treated with compassion and empathy.

As with all large organisations there is not ‘one culture’ but rather numerous sub-cultures. The supervisors of ‘operational units’ such as crews, or control rooms of functional team have a huge impact on the culture of their teams. This comes out very strongly in the report. There are some teams with excellent inclusive cultures.

I have been trying to imagine the conversations happening in crew rooms and control rooms today or in the LFB head office tomorrow. At the end of the day people will fall into two camps, those up for change and those not. Those that are currently sitting on the fence will have to choose a side. This is going to be a very difficult time for many and everybody deserves compassion and empathy.

The task ahead is enormous and my thoughts are with all of those in the LFB who small action by small action will help move towards goodness. Thank you. Including to those who are currently on the fence and will be faced with some existential choices about what they value and stand for.

The actions of Andy Roe and his senior team over the next days and weeks have enormous symbolic importance

I have written before about how the notion of resonant and dissonant actions. Andy Roe and his team’s behaviours and choices over the coming weeks and months will be under scrutiny and rightly so. Either their decisions will be emblamatic of a move towards goodness or not. Trust will either be built or lost.

From my very siloed and myopic view of what they face, there are two specific actions that would be embalmatic of a move to goodness.

  1. The NDA’s signed by anybody who may have experienced racist or mysoginist behaviours in any fire service should immediately be scrapped. While 2,000 felt able to comment and assist with the report, many others according to my friend are bound by NDA’s. Their voices are important and their stories deserve to be told.
  2. I have followed and am a huge champion of the Women In Fire Engineering Networking Group. Established by the inspirational Andrea White. I hope ‘ground-level’ networking groups like this will play a key role in helping shape change, as opposed to only involving more traditional organisations. They have a conference coming up in February 2023 wouldn’t it be wonderful if LFB Comissioner Andy Roe showed up to listen and learn from these incredible women?

The mental toll on our emergency services.

I found the section on mental health very difficult to read. For all of us watching from the sidelines, may we be measured and bring empathy and compassion to our reactions and responses to the report.

Enabling meaningful systemic change will require moving beyond simplistic hero/villain narratives. I would highly recommend reading the report in full to gain a glimpse into the complexity and challenging environment those in the LFB face. The following two stories from the report have stuck with me today…

The average person will experience traumatic incidents like witnessing death once or twice in their lives. But in a 30-year career a frefghter will experience 400-600 incidents. It can have a huge impact on your mental health. But what happens if you don’t want to go to counselling? What happens if you don’t want to talk to your line manager? There are quite a lot of people in this category and they’re struggling in silence.

Indepedent Culture Review of the LFB (p. 67)

One firefghter, for example, who attended an incident where there was a shocking fatality said he was haunted by the image of the person dying for years afterwards. “I couldn’t get it out of my head. Even when I went for a run I could see the dead person following me,” he said.

Indepedent Culture Review of the LFB (p. 63)

See here for LFB information about the review and a link to it and other documents.

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