‘Called us dumb s**ts’: Trainee firefighter blows whistle
A TRAINEE firefighter has revealed she and fellow students were called "fat f**ks, retards, dumb s**ts and spastics" during a 15-week government-run course in Melbourne.
Former Sydney paramedic Lisa Madsen, 37, has torn strips off aviation safety organisation Airservices Australia in a searing resignation letter after she was subjected to extreme verbal abuse by two instructors, prompting a formal investigation.
Ms Madsen said trainees were bullied by two instructors who repeatedly called them "disgraceful" names and allegedly encouraged them to carry out tasks that were clear "safety breaches". It became so bad that Ms Madsen quit nine weeks into the 15-week aviation firefighting course.
"Over the past nine weeks we have been called 'fat f**ks, retards, dumb s**ts and spastics' ... the list is endless," Ms Madsen wrote in her resignation letter, viewed by news.com.au.
"I understand the reasoning for yelling instructions in this job, being sharp and specific with orders as it's a high-risk job that requires prompt action, but there are no excuses for calling you names.
"This behaviour is unacceptable and in 2018 hard to believe still continues."
An Airservices spokesperson told news.com.au that Ms Madsen's resignation letter had prompted a formal investigation, which found "that inappropriate language was used by two trainers".
"The two staff members have since received official sanctions including a formal written warning for one staff member, and formal counselling for the other," the spokesperson said.
"Airservices takes staff behaviour extremely seriously and is confident that this was an isolated incident."
The company did not respond to questions about how many complaints it had received from staff regarding alleged workplace bullying.
The allegations come just days after the commissioner of NSW Fire and Rescue said there had been a "glass ceiling" holding back female firefighters.
"We have to change. We have to be an organisation that better represents the communities that we work for," Paul Baxter told Fairfax.
"With all the work that we have done and all the people that I have spoken to we continue to have this issue of bullying, harassment and sexism coming through."
'I ALMOST LOST MY ARM'
A fellow student has also revealed that she "almost lost [an] arm" during one of the course's practical exercises.
Belinda Davies, 32, told news.com.au she had to cut a car bonnet with a rescue saw without being "shown correct technique".
She was repeatedly called a "dumb f**k" and "stupid f**k" by several instructors and "almost lost [an] arm" as a result of "trainer negligence".
"The names that they called students and the intimidation tactics they used were inappropriate," she said.
Ms Davies, who also left Airservices before the training course concluded, said she reported the issues internally but was told to "suck it up".
An Airservices spokesman told news.com.au the company was conducting a separate investigation into "the use of the rescue saw during the training course", which is expected to be completed by the end of June.
Airservices is Australia's air navigation service provider, responsible for airspace management, aeronautic information, aviation communications, radio navigation aids, and aviation rescue firefighting services.
The company is described on its website as employing "Airservices Aviation Rescue Fire Fighters [who] work at 26 airports across Australia, providing a vital layer of safety to the travelling public".
"You'll enjoy excellent on-the-job training, competitive remuneration and great opportunities for career advancement. Collaborating and working together with a diverse group of people to benefit the Australian community and international visitors," the company's recruitment page reads.
"Airservices is committed to creating a diverse work force and encourages applications from women and men, including those from indigenous and non-English speaking backgrounds."
But according to Ms Madsen and Ms Davies, the reality of training as an aviation firefighter at Airservices Australia is a world away from the aspirational career opportunities depicted in its promotional materials.
In her resignation letter, Ms Madsen said she had "made so many sacrifices through the recruitment process to make it onto this team" including a move from Sydney to what she "thought would be an exciting and fulfilling career ahead".
"Unfortunately this has not been the case," she wrote.
"I have seen too many fellow friends and employees [in previous jobs] suffer unnecessarily.
"From all these experiences I would describe myself as a strong character, resilient and determined but most importantly I will fight for what I know is right, what is fair and what is acceptable.
"It's hard to learn, stay focused and not make mistakes when you are on edge wondering what words might be yelled at you."
Ms Madsen told news.com.au she outlined the incidents in her three-page resignation letter and spoke publicly about them in a bid to "change things" for her fellow students "so that they are cared for, respected and treated with the dignity they deserve".
"I am grateful to have met such a great bunch of people and thankful for those teachers who were sincere and genuine in their actions and words," she said.
"I leave with my head high knowing I've said my piece, stuck to my morals and done the right thing."