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London fire chief retires amid harassment allegations

March 19, 2018, London, Ont. - The chief of the London, Ont., fire service has retired amid allegations that his department was plagued by harassment and retaliation.

The City of London announced Monday that Chief John Kobarda was retiring "effective immediately" after 27 years with the service, 14 of which were spent in the top job.

"As many will know, my plan was to retire this year," Kobarda said a statement from the city. "It has always been my desire to serve the best interests of the fire service and the community. With that in mind, I have decided that I will be stepping down today.''

The London Abused Women's Centre has, in little more than a week, received complaints from around 30 London firefighters - most of the them men - the organization's executive director Megan Walker said.

"It is definitely a culture of harassment, abuse and retaliation against those firefighters that have stood up for others that have been harassed and abused," Walker said.

Walker said the stream of complaints began after she met with London Mayor Matt Brown to discuss the harassment complaints of one firefighter earlier this month.

"It got out that one firefighter had submitted a letter and so others started to follow," she said.

The organization received harassment complaints from more than 60 other city employees, Walker added.

London Mayor Matt Brown declined to comment on the allegations or any steps the city was taking to address them.

Complaints from firefighters include women being discriminated against because of their gender and staff being shouted at by superiors. Firefighters who tried to stand up for colleagues facing harassment were subject to punishment, Walker said.

"There's a culture where there is no dialogue of communication, but rather one of screaming ... and demanding," she said. "If somebody ever were to make a mistake, they suffer horrendous repercussions, sometimes even having their responsibilities taken from them. So in some cases, they go to work and just sit there all day because there is nothing for them to do.''

Firefighters said their superiors were autocratic and micro-managing, said former London Professional Fire Fighters Association president John Hassa, who helped some of the complainants bring their allegations forward.

"Organizations like ours, because of the culture and nature of the work and the fact that you don't get to challenge your supervisor on scene maybe lends itself to that (sort of behaviour), but I think as a society we ought not to enable it,'' Walker said.

March 19, 2018 
By The Canadian Press

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