FIRE Editor Andrew Lynch points to the words of advice and inspiration from women and black, Asian and ethnic minority personnel as we seek to raise the profile of a service that needs to be more diverse and inclusive.
There is no one simple answer for a service which has largely failed to reflect the community it serves, or give a straightforward roadmap for a route to the top – enticing as direct entry may sound – as we discover in the June issue of FIRE.
Our correspondents ask the difficult questions in special reports: ‘Diversity and inclusion 2021: The experience of black, Asian and ethnic minority personnel in the Fire Service’ (see pg 23) and ‘Breaking the Fire Service glass ceiling: Getting women to the top’ (see pg 27), whilst the Arctic Fire Angels discuss their quest to empower women and raise mental health awareness (see pg 71). If the latter sounds like the birth of a Marvel or DC-style fire franchise then it would be no bad thing: role models are the inspiration to break glass ceilings and shatter white-male-only-machismo-skewered myths.
The focus, however, should be moving towards a fully integrated universe incorporating a panoply of rich diversity from all facets of society. The glass ceiling is the last of our problems. Asked whether it matters if women are in principal officer posts (see pg 29), ACO Lynsey McVay, Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service, makes the obvious point that the reason there are not more women at this level is because there are not more women in the Fire Service full stop: “We all bring something different to the table and until we have an equal and diverse range of people to sit together at the table, my appointment along with all the other female and minority group appointments will remain significant.”
Former Liverpool and England football legend John Barnes made a similar point at the Asian Fire Service Association (AFSA) conference a couple of years ago: he was concerned less with black, Asian and ethnic minority representation at the top of organisations and more with it throughout.
The National Fire Chiefs Council’s Direct Entry Scheme and Supervisory Leadership Development Programme are laudable initiatives that should provide the framework to aid entry and development, although aspiration and inspiration comes from the very visible, human element – the Arctic Fire Angels angle again.
What more needs to be done? There is a rich vein of information, insight and inspiration from personnel in the Fire and Rescue Service who have survived and thrived, sometimes against seemingly unsurmountable odds, and those are the everyday heroes we will be returning to again and again in forthcoming issues, not to mention coverage and partnership with colleagues in Women in the Fire Service and AFSA.
Our correspondent points to the fact that more academic attention would also be valuable in helping inform the next steps, pointing towards the resource that is the Fire Service Research and Training Trust (FSRT). Academics and prospective researchers should investigate further (see the recent Trust supported trio of toolkits developed by AFSA covering religion and beliefs, positive action and disability).
FIRE’s own Fire Knowledge Network is providing expertise and services to underpin cutting-edge professional practice (see FIRE May, pg 37) with more upcoming resources and events to be announced soon.
So what more needs to be done? Lots. This issue is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to exploring the potential for a fully inclusive service, inspired in this case by serving personnel.
For more information on the FSRT visit: www.firetrust.info
For access to the AFSA toolkits visit: www.afsa.co.uk