Avon Fire and Rescue Service control room staff have been denied jobs because of their ‘essential’ role

Avon Fire and Rescue Service (AFRS) control room personnel have been denied challenging jobs in other parts of the organization because they are too important where they are , the advisers heard. Their crucial role in coordinating the response to emergencies and serious incidents has also been downplayed by colleagues as a “call center” or “switchboard”, a committee has heard.

The findings, which members called “disturbing”, are revealed in a major staff survey on service culture which also revealed that fire prevention employees feel “looked down upon”. And while much progress has been made since the damning 2017 Baker Report which described the AFRS as an “old boys’ club” plagued by “endemic bullying and harassment”, a quarter of those polled said have had a personal experience of discrimination, prejudice, harassment or bullying. , with gender or race being the most common reasons.

Although this was partly due to ‘legacy’ issues that occurred under previous regimes, less than half said they were confident complaints would be dealt with effectively by bosses, and many were reluctant to raise them. because of the possible negative consequences. The Avon Fire Authority’s (AFA) People and Culture Committee heard last summer’s questionnaire was conducted to determine progress since the first culture survey in 2018, with focus groups from organized employee follow up to explain and understand some of the negatives. answers.

Read more:Female Avon Fire and Rescue Service staff pay 3p more an hour than men

The analysis, presented in a report to members on Thursday June 9, said: “There are many positive aspects to working at AFRS. The organization largely consists of “good people” in the form of supportive colleagues and managers, who regularly thank their teams.

“Senior managers are more visible and proactive in their dealings with staff than before. Significant progress has been made since the previous cultural review in 2018, particularly in terms of more positive attitudes towards management, which is now more trustworthy and seen as more approachable.

But he said: ‘Control room staff have been particularly critical of the opportunities for progression available to them, alleging that they are being denied beneficial ‘side’ career moves due to shortages within their service. Control room staff have complained that their input is often overlooked.

An employee told external researchers that the control team supervised major incidents from the first call, attended to people in distress, mobilized everything and had “300 things to do before the crews arrived – but we never seem to get any credit for a success. result.” “We don’t do it for the glory, but neither are we a switchboard or a call center as we’ve been called internally,” they said.

According to the report, another member of staff in the control room said: ‘I was blocked from moving into other roles in the department to gain experience. Control (staff) is forgotten at every opportunity and morale has been very low for a long time.

“We just seem to be stuck with everything, with no opportunities. This has been a real obstacle over the years for screening staff. I applied for a position before and was successful, then was told I couldn’t do it as it would leave the department short.

Shelley Bromley, committee member and B&NES Lib Dem Cllr, said at the meeting: “The comments from the control room staff were rather disturbing. It seems to stop the progression, which is not good for their career at all.

Fire Chief Simon Shilton replied: “The control room staff are quite unique, they are a vital part of our organization. They are part of our emergency response, they are the first point of contact, so our priority must be to make sure we have the resources there.

“It can be a point of frustration when we try to provide movement and progression opportunities for individuals and how we adapt to that. We’ve had personnel move into different roles from the control room.

“We offer these opportunities, but there is a limit and it can be a point of frustration for some colleagues. But we are certainly trying to open pathways for different entry levels to service, a digression into career choices and opportunities, and development.

“We have to remember that this is a critical part of our organization and our priority is to make sure we have the resources in the right place, otherwise we can’t provide the service we can. , because it is such an essential function. AFRS Head of Culture and Inclusion, Richard Stokes, said: “A significant portion of the report highlighted key areas of bullying and harassment, particularly around race and of ethnicity.

“In the Baker report and the previous culture survey it was not raised as an issue, and this time it was, so there will be further investigation as to why. Being Given that our number of BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) employees is still quite low, this is quite concerning.

“When I came to the organization in 2018 the morale level was extremely low, but I can definitely say things have improved and there are a lot of green shoots of improvement. So even though this report indicates that there is still a lot of work to do, it is important to know that major improvements have been made.

AFA President and Bristol Labor Cllr Brenda Massey told the meeting at Police and Fire HQ in Portishead: ‘This is one of the most important things we need to do well. If our employees are unhappy and we can understand the reasons, we can fix it.

“We need to make sure the culture here is appropriate, that people feel valued.”

Dora W. Clawson