‘My house was on fire and the fireman who came to help started hitting on me’
A woman was sexually harassed by a firefighter as he responded to a blaze at her home, as he asked her ‘why are you single?’ and suggested he call around again after his shift had finished.
The mother of one said the Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service watch manager’s “predatory” and “insidious” advances left her feeling “really uneasy” at a time when she was at her most vulnerable – alone in the house with her daughter and dressed only in a dressing gown.
The woman, who did not want to be named for fear of reprisals, was prompted to speak out about the incident for the first time after learning the man had since been promoted.
“He was behaving like he was drunk in a bar, being quite laddish and strutting around the house,” the now-46-year-old told The Independent.
“He kept commenting on me being a single parent. He said it at least three times. One time he turned to his colleague and said, ‘Oh, she’s single.’ Later [asking] ‘So, why are you single?’”
It comes after an HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) report, published in March, warned discrimination, bullying and harassment were rife in fire services after a review uncovered incidents in which firefighters “acted out a rape” and used the n-word.
In response, The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) on Wednesday launched a drive to tackle “decades of harassment, bullying and discrimination” in the fire service following multiple damning reports. The union pledged to create its own set of reforms, as it slammed failures as going “right to the very top of fire service management”.
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Describing her experience in 2016, the woman said she was with her then-six-year-old daughter when a fire broke out in her garage at night.
Neighbours alerted the fire service after spotting the flames and the pair escaped the blaze safely. But the unwelcome advances of the fire officer began when the watch manager and two other fire officers went into her home to do safety checks.
“He was looking at photos on my walls and commenting on what my friends looked like,” she said.
“He offered to call round after his shift. He didn’t imply anything but to check on me – but it just felt a bit odd. I wouldn’t imagine that is protocol.
”It felt really unprofessional, and the fact that he was the watch manager left me feeling really uneasy.”
The woman said she minimised her experience at the time but someone who witnessed what happened later approached her to raise concern, saying: “He was really inappropriate with you.”
The woman said this validation of her experience encouraged her to make a formal complaint.
The station manager later visited her home to take down details of what had happened and she received a letter of apology letter from the watch manager.
Although, rather than an admission of guilt, she said it was phrased in a way that implied “sorry if I made you feel that way”.
Beyond that letter, the woman said she does not know if any other action was taken.
The man is still working at Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service and, according to his online profile, has since been promoted.