Baptism of Fire
In the wake of revelations of hazing and bullying in Fire and Rescue NSW, Greens MP David Shoebridge says urgent action needs to be taken to protect firefighters and other frontline troops.
Bullying and harassment is a major problem across all uniformed emergency services and needs to be seriously tackled before more lives are shattered, says Greens MP David Shoebridge.
Former NSW firefighter David Simms found himself ambushed by his own colleagues, blindfolded, gagged, tied to a chair and doused with cooking oil and cleaning products in an "initiation" ceremony - the start of many years of hell while serving Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW).
Going public wasn't an easy decision to make, it did and still does weigh heavily on my conscience.
Later he was accused of fraud, then "bullied and harassed by senior officers” and is still embroiled in a legal battle to clear his name and gain compensation.
Mr Shoebridge said the "dreadful" treatment of Mr Simms, revealed by the Mercury, was not isolated.
"We need a systemic fix to bullying in emergency services not just crisis responses to individual scandals," Mr Shoebridge said on Sunday.
"This is why it is deeply disappointing the Coalition has rejected the recent parliamentary recommendation for an independent oversight body for all emergency service workers," he said.
A cross-party NSW parliamentary inquiry last July found workplace bullying was so rife in state emergency services, including the ambulance, police, fire, state emergency and rescue, that it needed the independent regulation of an ombudsman.
The external body has been recommended to help workers who have exhausted internal complaints avenues within their agency.
"This isn’t a problem just with firefighters, it’s a problem in all the uniformed emergency services and until it’s seriously tackled lives will continue to be shattered."
Emergency Services minister Troy Grant refused to comment.
Mr Simms has been overwhlemed by the support he has received since going public with his ordeal. He posted a response to the hundreds of messages of support on the Mercury Facebook page.
"Going public wasn't an easy decision to make, it did and still does weigh heavily on my conscience," he said.
"I apologise to every front-line firefighter, who strives to do the right thing every single day and are prepared to protect the community regardless of the physical or psychological cost to themselves and unfortunately will be unfairly judged on the actions of the vast minority, who have tainted the reputation of FRNSW.
"That in itself is the real tragedy of today's news. I don't condone bullying in any way, shape or form. I can only speak for my own point of view, as it's not my place to reference another individual's story.
"The senior officers are the worst offenders of all, with their mob mentality of bullying and harassment for seven years and is still ongoing.
"They gave me a hard time by hiding evidence so that I couldn't prove my innocence and that's inexcusable in anyone's book.
"Sometimes when you feel as if your alone, treading water in the dark, when you lift your head up, you see a glimmer of light. Today your supportive comments are that light. I thank everyone of you for that."