The first ever gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender conference involving the North East's three main emergency services, was held at Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service's headquarters on February 4.

Around 120 people attended the event which featured talks by Ben Summerskill, Chief Executive of the national gay charity 'Stonewall', and emergency service leaders. The event also included interactive workshops, a range of stalls and networking opportunities for participants.

Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service and the North East Ambulance Service both featured in Stonewall's top 100 list of gay-friendly UK employers for 2011. To make the top 100 index, employers must complete a 25-question survey covering nine areas of policy and practice, backed up by supporting evidence. Each entry is then awarded points based on its attitudes to lesbian, gay and bisexual staff.

Ben Summerskill, said: "We are here today because Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service is one of the best performing services in the country in relation to supporting gay staff and engaging the wider community.

"We are crystal clear that at a time when spending is tight, it is absolutely critical to be recruiting the very best people regardless of background, and we hugely welcome all the efforts that the North East emergency services have made in this area."

Vice-Chairman of Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority, Councillor Nick Forbes, said: "Being part of the Fire and Rescue Service is like being part of a big extended family. But I also know how difficult it can be for gay people to come out in a close-knit family environment.

"I am very proud of the work that we have done to encourage and support gay people in the fire service. The fact that we jumped 41 places in this year's Stonewall top 100 index - making us the joint highest placed fire and rescue service with West Yorkshire - is a fantastic achievement and shows our commitment to diversity and equality, and to representing the communities we serve."

Chief Officer of Corporate Services for Northumbria Police, Bernie McCardle, said: "The event was a fantastic opportunity for all three emergency services to demonstrate support to gay staff and to the community. We were honoured to have hosted this event alongside Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service and the North East Ambulance Service."

Chief Executive of the North East Ambulance Service, Simon Featherstone, said: "This was a wonderful opportunity for the three emergency services to come together to compare notes on this extremely important area of our work, particularly in the context of the financial challenges facing all public sector organisations.

"We must ensure that equality and diversity across the piece is at the forefront of our thinking. I was very inspired by the leadership shown and messages given on the vision for the future by Ben Summerskill."


Date posted: 11.02.11