Australia's New South Wales Fire Brigades in crisis over bullying

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Sunday, June 13, 2010

The New South Wales Fire Brigades (NSWFB) in Australia has come under scrutiny as a report highlights the latest in a string of sexual abuse and harassment cases. The report also describes the humilation of new recruits in "bizarre" initiation rituals.

The independent investigation led by KPMG, a Swiss audit, taxation and advisory firm, found that less that 9% of those who claimed to have suffered from such abuse were said to be satisfied by the action taken by the NSWFB.

The investigation states that "there are still instances of bullying and harassment ... and they are not being adequately addressed...Some degree of physical bullying and intimidation is present across all areas of the organization, including the administration directorates."

Physical abuse in the NSWFB has become a critical issue, with most cases manifesting in the initation of new recruits. These initiations require them to remove their clothing and be subject to physical torment and irritation while being watched by other members of the brigade. It is estimated that more then 600 firefighters have witnessed or have experienced physical bullying in the past two years and that this is not exclusive to recruits, but also includes a number of superintendents and captains.

Abuse hot spots have also been identified, with the brigade's Special Operations Unit having the highest percentage of such claims.

Despite statements made by the New South Wales Emergency Services Minister, Steve Whan, to take firm action against all involved, a "Boy's Club" mentality continues to pervade the organization, leading to both abuses and the stripping of female firefighters of adequate support, with 26% of female firefights admit to experiencing sexual harassment while 36% have been subject to verbal assaults, obscene gestures and jokes.

It was also revealed that in the light of KMPG's investigation that the Independent Commission Against Corruption will launch its own investigation into physical and sexual abuses in the NSWFB.

The KPMG report puts forward 14 recommendations which are to be utilised by the Emergency Services Ministry in the hope of reforming the culture within the NSWFB.


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