Racism, discrimination, lack of leadership in Amsterdam fire department: Mayor

Firefighters' gear (Picture: Wikimedia Commons/Muffet). (Firefighters' gear (Picture: Wikimedia Commons/Muffet))

Amsterdam Mayor Eberhard van der Laan has no good word to say about the Amsterdam fire department in a recent letter to the municipal council. According to him, discrimination is the order of the day in the fire department, recruitment is based on a white male culture and leaders do not intervene or show exemplary behavior. The general image of the letter is that the Amsterdam fire department is great at extinguishing fires, but the general culture is rotten, Het Parool reports.

Van der Laan's letter is mostly based on the findings and observations of new fire department chief Leen Schaap, who took office on June 1st last year. Schaap is a former police officer and Van der Laan deliberately chose him because the previous chiefs from the fire department let the now existing culture grow, according to the newspaper. 

After 11 fruitless meetings with the fire department, Van der Laan set up a "transition agreement" in 2011 to help the department into "a modern and flexible fire department". According to the letter, that transformation "failed". Van der Laan called it "unacceptable" tat the agreements were deliberately not complied too. 

The mayor writes that the "common structure" of these agreements "collapsed". Discrimination is still prevalent in the fire department. Work stations are used as private environments. Promises to spend more time on fire prevention were deliberately ignored. Of the agreed upon 100 thousand home inspections, only 42 thousand were done. Promised experiments with modern 8 hour schedules were not done. And the agreed upon "flexible" 24 hour grid in which firefighters spend two days a week in the barracks did not materialize. 

New chief Schaap was faced with a derailed fire department with, what he calls, a too large staff who is not willing to intervene. Some firefighters even denied him access to their barracks because, according to them, a fire chief is supposed to announce his arrival. According to the Mayor, Schaap presented a "comprehensive and ambitious" plan to "fundamentally" change the fire department into a "healthy organization where people deal with each other and their environment in a normal way" and which works to prevent fires, not just extinguishes them.