Amsterdam fire chief appointed to tackle 'macho culture' sent 'death threats from staff'

Mark Molloy
Dutch prosecutors are investigating death threats sent to Amsterdam fire chief Leen Schaap

A Dutch fire chief appointed to eradicate a culture of “racism and bullying” is facing death threats reportedly made by members of his own staff.

Commander Leen Schaap was parachuted in from the police service two years ago to head up the Amsterdam Fire Department and tackle the “macho” culture in the organisation. 

However, Mr Schaap’s attempts to modernise the city's fire brigade has been met with resistance, with the disharmony and division in the department spilling out into negative national press coverage and some firefighters reportedly barring him from entering their barracks.

Dutch prosecutors are currently investigating two deaths threats sent to the former police chief in February and March this year.

Several firefighters have been interviewed over an alleged fundraising campaign to have Mr Schaap knocked over by a car, Dutch daily newspaper AD reports.

Mr Schaap has been placed under police protection after another threat allegedly made by firemen who are members of a biker gang, the report adds. No arrests have been made.

Threats have also been made against the fire chief on social media, one wrote: “I want to bring Schaap to his final resting place.”

“Enough of this man,” wrote another critic, alongside a photo of a sheep torn to pieces, referencing the meaning of his surname in Dutch.

Dutch firefighters attempt to put out a fire Credit: AFP

Mr Schaap has been openly critical of the fire brigade and discussed his difficulties recruiting more women and immigrants, while also exposing sexual harassment in the workplace.

Amsterdam’s former mayor, Eberhard van der Laan, condemned the “closed culture in which racism, discrimination and bullying takes place” in a scathing letter to the city council last year, based on a report by Mr Schaap.

A firefighter was also suspended for discriminatory and racist behaviour against colleagues and civilians, however a judge later reversed the decision.

Trade unions representing the firefighters responded to Mr Schaap’s controversial statements in the media by calling for him to face an investigation for a “dereliction of duty”.

Responding to the criticism of his leadership from retired and current firefighters, Mr Schaap said earlier this year: “I'm not a baby and I'm pretty used to it in the police. This affects me but doesn't infect me.”

He has not yet commented publicly on the death threats, but told Dutch media in April: “I have had bucket loads of s--t poured over me in the last few years and the end is not in sight.”

Amsterdam’s newly appointed mayor Femke Halsema called the threats “unacceptable”, adding the investigation would be a “priority” as she steps into the new role.