Improving diversity is a great opportunity for Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, "and we will get better". That was the message from Oxfordshire's chief fire officer, when he spoke to county councillors at their Cabinet (Delegated Decisions meeting) on Thursday 20 April.
Rob MacDougall, Chief Fire Officer for Oxfordshire County Council's Fire and Rescue Service, said: "Improving our diversity will makes us an even better service that is able to listen to its communities and provide the best solutions to keep them safe.
"We want to become an employer of choice for the parts of our community where we are currently underrepresented, whether this is gender, age, race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity. But we also want to attract people who will bring a diversity of life experience and a diversity of thought to the service.
"This is not tokenism; we want the best people to join our teams and to do this we want to appeal to our whole community.
"If we increase our diversity, we will not only better understand the issues that our communities face but will be able to find better solutions. In turn, we'll be able to enhance community relationships and deliver the right service for the communities need."
He explained that Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service has had to adapt its already improved community recruitment activities because of social distancing requirements resulting from the pandemic.
Taster days - which previously offered people an opportunity to experience what it means to be a firefighter, or a member of the fire prevention team - are not possible at present. However, Rob's team is developing plans for virtual information days, allowing residents to meet firefighters online, ask questions, watch presentations and videos, and get an understanding of what is involved and how to apply.
Rob explained that there is an ongoing recruitment campaign for on-call firefighters. And he outlined why it can be difficult to recruit people from underrepresented groups in more rural locations.
"Firefighters need to live or work close to their local fire stations, ready to respond to emergency call outs. This further limits the potential people we can recruit from and makes it even more important to make sure that everyone in these areas understands the amazing opportunity and experiences that come from being an on-call firefighter.
"Our teams will be working in these communities as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and our ongoing campaigns will help us to build a more diverse workforce."
Over eight percent of Oxfordshire's firefighters are female, slightly higher than the seven percent national average, but again Rob is determined to improve the figure.
"Some of our female firefighters, and LGBTIQ+ colleagues, attend our recruitment events. They are active in their communities, sharing their experiences, and breaking down outdated perceptions of firefighters as exclusively well-built males. This couldn't be further from reality, modern firefighters rely on technical skills, endurance, great communication and teamwork to do what they do.
"Fire doesn't discriminate, and neither do we. If you want a rewarding career as part of your local firefighting team, we want to hear from you."
Ideally on-call firefighters should live or work within a five-mile radius of the nearest fire station, but anyone further afield is also encouraged to get in contact as there are a range of other opportunities.
Businesses are being asked to allow employees to become on-call firefighters. Participating organisations often find they enhance their reputation by giving back to the local community, as well as their employees gaining important business skills. Further details are available on the employee section of the national on-call websitehttps://oncallfire.uk/.
You can find further information about becoming an on-call firefighter, and other employment opportunities at Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, by visiting Oxfordshire County Council's on-call firefighters recruitment webpage or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.