Mark Risk, Director of Response, Kent Fire and Rescue Service, welcomed delegates to the event.

Encouraging Diversity of Thought and Experience

The first speaker was Anne Millington, Chief Executive of Kent Fire and Rescue Service, who opened the conference. She focused on how difficult it has been for the service to make faster progress on equality, diversity and inclusion. She highlighted how, as humans, we are more comfortable with people who are like us and getting people to go beyond their tribe can be a struggle but needs to be encouraged to ensure diversity of thought and experience.

The second speaker was Graham Hooper from Kent Police whose central message was the need to go beyond cliches and seek what we all have in common.

Our next two speakers were Iveta Janova and Mike Pitney, Kent Fire and Rescue Service, who showcased how they have worked with the Roma community in addressing fire safety. Iveta provided a fantastic insight into the lived experience of the Roma community in Kent and how, through working with Mike, they have developed a close working relationship to support fire safety practice.

The next speaker was Donna Bentley, the national lead on safeguarding. Her key message was the importance of the need to work proactively to promote the safeguarding of those within their communities as well as employees and volunteers in order to reduce the risk of abuse, harm and neglect and to share learning and experiences to contribute to the continual improvement of safeguarding.

Mark Andrews, Deputy Chief Fire Officer, West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service, gave a very useful overview of the need to provide further support to the Fire and Rescue Service to deliver equitable services to business owners from certain minority groups. He highlighted how AFSA, NFCC and other partners such as the Home Office would be hosting workshops and developing tools to support this initiative.

The next speaking slot involved three firefighters from Poland: Tomasz Golasz, Sabina Blana and Agnieszka Sple´snialy. They shared a wonderful insight into how their small fire service plays a crucial role in the villages by working with community members to manage risk and to support the social development of children and adults.

Our next speaker was Jon Quinn, Director of Prevent. He shared Kent FRS’s policy of taking a ‘customer focus and approach’ and the need for more evidence to ensure services were accessible by everyone. He highlighted how the organisation is working towards understanding the barriers and risks for communities by focusing on insight and behaviour change and taking a person-centred approach to their customers’ needs.

The next speaker was Wendy Williams from the HMICFRS. She outlined what good looks like in terms of managing equality, diversity and inclusion. She stressed the need to focus on the ‘why?’ and the ‘so what?’, acting proportionately, having appropriate mechanism and foundations in place, giving prominence to staff voices, ensuing EDI permeates across multiple questions and, lastly, taking staff along with them.

Day Two: Don’t Let the Bullies Get You Down

On day two our first speaker was Jay Kamiraz, who shared his experience of being the victim of a brutal homophobic attack, and how he was disowned by his parents for being gay. Subsequently, he decided to get back on his feet and rebuilt his worth, “’cause the one thing I was not going to allow was the bullies and the haters to bring me down. Never.” Kamiraz is now a well-known gospel choir director and describes himself as the “gender fabulous version of Oprah”. He even performed with his choir at Buckingham Palace, describing it as “one of my greatest achievements.”

The second speaker was Mille Knight, Paralympian. From the age of six, Millie had lost most of her vision with five to ten per cent peripheral vision in her left eye and five per cent in her right eye. Millie described how she refused to let these life-changing injuries interrupt her goals and shortly after losing her sight on a skiing holiday, Millie took up the sport after feeling inspired when meeting sit skier, Sean Rose.

Fast forward to 2021 and the last 14 years have seen Knight compete and debut for Great Britain’s Paralympic squad, becoming the youngest GB competitor at the 2014 Winter Paralympics, aged just 15. As an alpine skier, Millie competes in the slalom, giant slalom Super-G, super combined and downhill events with her sighted guide, Brett Wild.

At the 2018 Paralympics, Millie took two silver medals in the downhill and Super-G, also taking bronze in the slalom on the final day.

Our final speaker was Mark Jones from South Australia County Fire and Rescue Service. He outlined his commitment to equality and diversity and the key lessons from South Australia. These included the experience of indigenous Australians and new arrivals to the country. He stressed the need to address equality because it is the right thing to do.

The conference was closed by Ann Millington, Kent Fire and Rescue Service, who thanked the organisers and wished everyone a safe journey.

The next AFSA Conference will be hosted by Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service on November 23-24, 2022. If you wish to attend email: