Councillors have united behind Avon’s chief fire officer (CFO) despite a damning government report.

Inspectors gave the service the worst possible rating of “inadequate” in four of 11 areas – including its core duty of responding to emergencies.

His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) also found some staff used sexist and inappropriate language and “disguised this as banter”.

That was despite years of efforts by bosses to tackle cultural problems, including a new zero-tolerance policy, after previous inspections exposed “deep-seated” misogyny and homophobia.

CFO Simon Shilton told an emergency meeting of Avon Fire Authority (AFA) that he was “heartbroken” by those findings.

HMICFRS’s report, published last month, raised “serious concerns” over Avon Fire & Rescue Service’s ability to keep residents – and firefighters – safe.

They concluded the organisation’s mobilistation system, which records information and dispatches crews to incidents, “isn’t reliable and crashes during 999 calls, which results in the public receiving a slower response to emergencies”.

Inspectors have moved the organisation into enhanced monitoring called the “engaged” phase.

But cross-party councillors on the AFA committee overwhelmingly backed fire chiefs and agreed with CFO Shilton that he “does not recognise” the service described in the report.

North Somerset Cllr Martin Williams (Conservative/Independent, Weston-super-Mare Kewstoke) said: “As someone who has been on the authority previously, I can see the improvement in the place.

“It’s so much better, so much more open, it’s a much more positive place to be.

“Previously I would have had serious concerns that this report would be ignored or buried but now I feel you and your team will sort it out. You have my full support.”

The chief said two “accelerated causes for concern” were raised immediately after the inspection, prior to the report’s publication, and that he had made those a priority.

CFO Shilton said all actions had been completed to fix the mobilisation software’s technical problems but that the service “never failed to mobilise an appliance” as a result of the problems, which affected individual consoles and not the whole system.

He told the meeting on Wednesday, December 13, that the other accelerated cause for concern – failures in how AFRS gathers risk information to protect firefighters, residents and property during an emergency – would take longer to solve but were being addressed.

CFO Shilton said the report highlighted two further causes for concern, including the service’s culture, along with 31 areas for improvement, with action plans being finalised in response to the findings.

He said: “The culture cause for concern is particularly disappointing and frustrating as much work has been undertaken since round two inspections including the zero-tolerance position, policy changes, independent reporting and confidential reporting lines.

“This also includes delivering almost all of the recommendations within the sector-wide Spotlight report on culture published by HMICFRS in March.

“During my leadership I’ve been clear on my commitment to cultural improvement where staff are able to be the best version of themselves.

“I’ve also been clear that culture cannot be solved overnight and it requires a persistent and consistent commitment to establish a healthy workplace.

“Since the release of my zero-tolerance position I’ve utilised external legal HR investigators resulting in disciplinary sanctions, including dismissals from the service on the basis of behaviour.

“When I saw the outcome of the investigation it was personally heartbreaking.

“I am particularly heartbroken by the assessment of culture.

“Of all of the work we have put in across the organisation, the commitment of our staff to be a healthy workplace has been unwavering.

“So to move from ‘good’ to ‘inadequate’ with a ‘cause for concern’, I really want to understand how that has happened.

“I really want to get to grips with that so we can respond positively to the findings, and I know this is not a reflection of Avon Fire & Rescue Service that I work in.

“But as heartbreaking as it is, there have been findings and we will respond positively.”

He said part of the report that found incident commanders’ accreditation was out of date related to two personnel, both of whom were about to retire and whose two-yearly assessments were due shortly before their last day.

“That’s particularly one that I don’t wholly share the whole view of the inspectorate with,” he added.

The report rated the service “inadequate” in four areas – understanding fire and risk, preventing fire and risk, responding to fires and emergencies, and promoting values and culture.

Five others “require improvement” and two were judged to be “adequate”, with none “good” or “outstanding”.

Inspectors revisited earlier this month and will formally report back on the two accelerated causes for concern in January.