Firefighters from the Illawarra and across NSW are calling for an independent investigation into serious allegations of mismanagement, workplace bullying, harassment and sexual discrimination.
They claim their concerns are being ignored by NSW Fire and Rescue and in some cases they have been targeted for speaking out against the establishment.
At least 10 former and serving firefighters from the greater Sydney area - including Wollongong and Newcastle - and regional northern and southern NSW, have filed statutory declarations with the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).
They say the response to date from the watchdog has been unsatisfactory.
Greens MP David Shoebridge has thrown his support behind the call for a parliamentary inquiry - going a step further, saying the NSW Police Force and NSW Ambulance should also be investigated.
"In each of the emergency service agencies, police, fire and rescue, and paramedics, we have the same command structures. It is very hierarchical and rigid workplaces and in each of them we are seeing similar concerns about bullying," Mr Shoebridge told the Mercury.
"[There are] the same concerns about the powerlessness of middle and lower level of workforces and institutional failures to deal with these concerns."
"The Greens would support a parliamentary inquiry that looks at each of those agencies and to investigate each agency to seek to resolve long-standing workplace concerns."
Mr Shoebridge said sending a complaint to ICAC did not absolve an organisation of its duties.
"The fact that a matter is sent to ICAC doesn't prohibit agencies from responding to the issues.
"Many agencies and politicians view a referral to ICAC with relief to avoid commentary on it. That is not good enough. We should expect a response on the record."
Mr Shoebridge and Bart Bassett, member for Londonderry, are among a dozen or more NSW politicians to have been approached by former and existing firefighters with concerns their grievances are being ignored by the organisation.
Mr Bassett referred the matter to NSW Police and Emergency Services Minister Stuart Ayres, calling for an independent investigation.
Mr Ayres notified Fire and Rescue NSW Commissioner Greg Mullins of Mr Bassett's representation and referred the matter to ICAC.
An ICAC spokeswoman told the Mercury "the commission cannot confirm or deny if it has received information or complaints, is making inquiries or undertaking investigations."
Yet a letter from ICAC dated February 16, 2015, states the watchdog has decided "not to undertake a formal investigation in the matters raised".
Mr Bassett said the statutory declarations and supporting evidence contained serious allegations and safety issues, and needed to be addressed.
"I feel very frustrated for these ex-members and some still existing members of fire and rescue in the manner in which they have been treated by the authorities," Mr Bassett told the Mercury.
"It's disgraceful. They've got legitimate claims that have been ignored, in my opinion, and the authorities obviously don't want to look at it because I actually think it's in the too-hard basket because of the culture of the organisation.
"It's time it was sorted out. The victimisation of these members is unacceptable in NSW."
Mr Bassett described ICAC's attitude to the matter as "terrible".
"I don't think they've been interested in wanting to do anything about it," he said.
"I don't think ICAC has taken the matter seriously.
"How on earth anyone could not see fundamental problems in the structure of Fire and Rescue NSW is beyond me. It's a structural problem within the organisation and these good men and women need to be supported."
Mr Bassett said the majority of members did a fantastic job but "a few in positions of power are making it difficult".
Commissioner Mullins told the Mercury the organisation "take these matters very seriously and uphold strict workplace standards to maintain the safety and wellbeing of our people".
"Bullying, harassment and other forms of inappropriate workplace conduct have no place in FRNSW and are not tolerated," Mr Mullins said.
"We actively encourage our employees to report instances of such behaviour so they are appropriately and promptly dealt with."
Mr Mullins said the matters outlined in the statutory declarations presented to ICAC had been addressed by FRNSW "and have been extensively examined and reviewed by independent bodies".
"FRNSW has at all times co-operated fully with these external inquiries."
Mr Mullins said FRNSW was aware a number of concerns were reported to Mr Ayres, then referred to ICAC.
"FRNSW will provide every assistance to the ICAC should this be required."
Shellharbour MP Anna Watson said she had made "numerous representations" to ministers on behalf of her local constituents.
"These are serious allegations about a range of issues," she said.
"I have tried to have these matters addressed by the state government. I'm pleased that the allegations have now been referred to the Independent Commission Against Corruption by the Minister for Police," she said.
"There is no place for any of the behaviour which has been alleged anywhere or at any time, least of all within NSW Fire and Rescue, and I hope ICAC can get to the bottom of it all."
A female firefighter claims she was forced to undress in public view, belittled by her superiors and became the butt of practical jokes for speaking up against unprofessional and unsafe work practices within NSW Fire and Rescue.
The woman’s partner said her treatment had left her traumatised and unable to return to work.
Asking for her name and station not to be revealed for fear of reprisals, the woman’s partner said the response received to the complaints of bullying, harassment, sexual discrimination and workplace violence had been manifestly inadequate.
The matter has now been referred to the Independent Commission against Corruption.
The firefighter had four years’ experience when she was moved to a regional NSW station.
She was not issued with a locker or access to basic amenities ‘‘which everyone else at the station had, which is common practice’’, her partner said.
‘‘Instead she was forced to change in full view of the public.
‘‘That is only some of what my partner endured. When she and a colleague found safety issues with the fire truck, she made the station officer aware it didn’t meet policy standards. And the captain then decided to put her right in the firing line for ridicule,’’ the man said.
‘‘Her captain and deputy stood her in front of a number of men where they yelled abuse at her and allowed all the firemen to have a go at both her and her colleague.
‘‘They said things like ‘who do you think you are, we run things our way’.
‘‘They went straight to the inspector. He said he would talk to the captain and the deputy. That never happened. That was a joke. Management were also a part of the sexual discrimination to my partner.
‘‘Because she spoke up, and reported the safety concern, they tried to humiliate her.’’
The woman’s uniforms went missing on several occasions.
‘‘If she had no uniform she couldn’t get on the truck when there was a call-out,’’ the man said.
‘‘The captain told her, in front of everyone, that it was going missing because no one liked her. Not one of them would tell her where it was. It would happen regularly.’’
The firefighter’s partner claimed her treatment escalated to a point where she was forced out of her workplace.
She lodged her complaints with WorkCover.
WorkCover has recently completed an internal review of the matters raised by her and other firefighters from across the state.
‘‘The outcomes have supported their claims of bullying and harassment, sexual discrimination and workplace violence,’’ according to a firefighter’s report before ICAC.
‘‘Part of these outcomes is that WorkCover subsequently enforced the rewriting of two key policies,’’ it said.
‘‘WorkCover continue to investigate false information received from FRNSW and are currently continuing the internal review,’’ the statement said.
The firefighter has also lodged a complaint with the Anti-Discrimination Board and the NSW Ombudsman.
She has also sought help from her local MP, and other members of Parliament, including two NSW premiers.
‘‘FRNSW have acknowledged that these events have occurred but have not done anything to the perpetrators,’’ her partner said.
‘‘This is a gross display of mismanagement and maladministration, especially when it comes to a highly respected government organisation.’’
NSW MP Bart Bassett, who has made representations on behalf of the female firefighter, said politicians often gave ‘‘lip service’’ when promoting women in government organisations.
‘‘They wear white ribbons on particular days of the year supporting women but it’s just lip service if the treatment [this firefighter] received is not taken seriously and action is not taken to rectify the situation.’’