By Penny Mordaunt MP - Minister for Fire Services
International Women’s Day this weekend provides an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women while calling for greater equality. I think we need to do both of those things in the Fire and Rescue Service, where we have much to be proud of but more to do.
The frontline Fire Service has historically been a male domain. While women make up the majority of support and fire control staff, in operational roles, these figures reduce dramatically with only five per cent of fulltime and four per cent of on-call firefighters being women.
That is a long way short of most other professions and falls way behind on where the Fire Service should be. While I accept that most fire services in England are not currently recruiting fulltime staff I do believe there is an opportunity to attract and increase the number of female on call firefighters by encouraging women to consider such roles.
As readers of this publication will be aware, firefighters respond to many kinds of emergency incidents - from fires to flooding to road accident rescues - but none that can’t or shouldn’t be performed by women. They are also responsible for preventing fire and accidents from occurring in the first place and working with and educating the community on fire safety. Day in day out, women across England, are performing these roles to a high standard alongside their male counterparts.
The majority of female firefighters are proud to work in the Service and a number have risen to senior positions, most notably Dany Cotton, an Assistant Commissioner in London Fire Brigade. However some women in the service still face difficulties not from the role itself or their ability to perform it to the required standard, but from the lack of support provided to them by their employers or colleagues. Since my appointment as Minister for Fire Services last summer I have heard from female firefighters who have suffered from bullying and harassment, have not been provided with appropriate clothing, have not been given the same training opportunities as their male colleagues or supported by effective HR policies and procedures on maternity and return to work.
Leaders and managers in the fire service need to ensure that effective policies are in place to support all of their staff regardless of gender. That is their responsibility and it is one they do not face alone. I have met with a number of support groups who provide advice and guidance to fire and rescue services at the same time as providing support and training and development opportunities to female staff. I would encourage all services to engage with groups such as Women in the Fire Service in order to improve conditions and the effectiveness of staff in the workplace and push this agenda on.
The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is Make It Happen. So I challenge everyone in the Fire Service to use March 8th as an opportunity to do just that, challenge ‘male banter’; make sure your women employees have the right equipment and support; and check that your culture and terms and conditions are allowing women not just to work with you but flourish.