Networking Women in the Fire Service's 10th National Training and Development event was recently held at Tyne and Wear's HQ and Training Centre in Newcastle, with sponsorship from the North East Regional Management Board and Draeger. The theme for the event was 'Unlock Your Potential'.

Networking Women in the Fire Service (NWFS) were presented with a challenge this year: the membership gave an overwhelming mandate for an event, and yet awareness of the economic difficulties facing services meant that the previously successful formula would need to be reviewed and amended.

The aim was to deliver quality training opportunities that were relevant and would contribute to delegates' development, and in turn benefit their employers. Costs would need to be kept to a minimum and value for money was paramount. The team looked to within the organisation itself, drawing on the expertise and experiences of its membership to deliver many of the sessions.

NetworkingwomenlargeThe most popular workshop explored the value and use of coaching and was delivered by Mani Gilbert-King, Chair NWFS and Group Manager in East Sussex FRS. This session was oversubscribed and the feedback from those who participated was excellent. Other popular seminars included career advancement, use of action learning sets and faith awareness.

Out of the classroom and onto the fireground, operational crews took part in challenging hot fire and road traffic collision sessions. Incident command exercises were staged, both using the simulation suite and the practical scenarios. The fireground exercises were facilitated by Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service instructors with assistance from our women station and watch managers. Facilitators provided one to one coaching to incident commanders, and new and potential supervisory managers. It was a tremendous inspiration for the women firefighters on the fireground to be surrounded by so many confident and successful women role models.

Some delegates were 'thrown' out of their comfort zone, literally, during some sessions: abseiling from the drill tower, boot camp-style physical fitness, personal safety and self defence delivered by Northumbria Police. Whilst delegates from administrative and support roles took the opportunity to 'be a firefighter' for the day. A new set of trainee firefighters may soon be completing their application forms.

There was also an opportunity to take an holistic view of our working lives, how those who laugh get more done, how to put a bit of magic back into the mundane, how to cope as the pressures mount for all of us, and Anita Pickerden reported back on her research into work-life balance within the FRS.

We owe a debt of thanks to the NE Regional Management Board and to Tyne and Wear FRS for their unstinting support. All in all it was a highly successful weekend, not just for the delegates but for the network itself. Financial constraints challenged us, and this in turn made us look closely at the talent, skills and capacity within our own organisation, something which we may have undervalued, failed to harness and fully develop in the past; looking to experts and consultants, when actually the solution was already within our reach. In conclusion, Unlocking Our Potential is a theme that we will take forward, to ensure NWFS is prepared and fully equipped to face the challenges ahead.

Anne Waters, Director, NWFS


Quotes from Evaluation Forms:

Firefighter (Cheshire): 'I have been very impressed with every aspect of the weekend.  The workshops were very organised and relevant... The opportunity to meet people in the same situation has been amazing and inspirational'.

Crew Manager (Male, West Midlands): 'To be honest I was quite sceptical but I have been made to feel so welcome. I really enjoyed the whole weekend and intend on returning next year. I have developed myself a lot this weekend and networked with others... I feel this type of event is invaluable'.

Firefighter (Lothian and Borders): 'A first timer... great to meet other people sharing their experiences. The workshops were really helpful in developing my career in the Service'.

Firefighter (Hampshire): 'A very uplifting and empowering experience. I feel I will be walking a bit taller and will preach the benefits to the unconverted'.

Equality and Diversity Trainer LFB (retiring): 'This has been my last conference. I will probably miss NWFS more than anything else in the fire brigade'.

Data Admin/Special Projects Officer: 'I had a brilliant time and did things I never would have thought I would or could do'. 

Firefighter (West Midlands): 'Had a great weekend. I have met some great people. I will leave this weekend with more knowledge and understanding and this I know will benefit me greatly in my role as firefighter'.

Risk strategy/RDS Firefighter West Sussex: 'A wonderful weekend. I learnt a lot, laughed a lot and ached a lot. I came away enthusiastic and energised'.

Firefighter, Devon and Somerset FRS: 'Having been a firefighter for nearly six years I thought it a good opportunity to take up the offer of the Incident Command Suite workshop at the NWFS Training and Development weekend and see how I got on. The facilities at the Tyne and Wear Training Centre were excellent. Real incidents were simulated through computers and television screens highlighting the tension, concentration and professionalism that officers in charge have to endure and maintain whilst out on the fireground. Actors and officers from Tyne and Wear ensured that the seriousness and reality of the situation were maintained throughout. I learned a great deal about my strengths and abilities which I am using in my development within my organisation.

'I speak on behalf of all at DSFRS who attended the weekend, in that it was a fun-filled, challenging, educational and confidence-building weekend where we met some great friends. We are all very much looking forward to the next event'.


Posted November 9 2010


For the full article, see the new edition of FIRE magazine