National Fire Chiefs Council Chair Mark Hardingham responds to an increase in attacks on firefighters and reports on what the NFCC is doing to drive transformation and inclusivity in the Fire and Rescue Service.
I start this month’s article by sending my thoughts to all those affected by the recent terrorist attack in Liverpool. Merseyside control operators and firefighters ensured a rapid and effective response with firefighters on scene within five minutes. Alongside police and ambulance colleagues they quickly extinguished the fire and helped to prevent further injuries or damage.
This swift response and joint working with the police and ambulance services is yet another example of how fire and rescue services respond to all types of emergencies, underpinned by the Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Principles. I have been encouraged to see the work of all three emergency services, alongside all other parts of the local community, to step forward and ensure a strong and visible community presence to restore and maintain local public confidence.
I’ll turn next to the recent Home Office workforce statistics for April 2020 to March 2021. These cover a range of areas including gender, ethnicity and age. They also cover some disturbing data that shows an increase in attacks on firefighters.
It never fails to astound and disappoint me that there are a small minority of people who will attack firefighters and other emergency service workers; attacked by some of the very people we spend 365 days a year protecting.
This year we have seen attacks using BB guns, a firefighter needing hospital treatment, crews having to abandon incidents, and missiles and fireworks being thrown by groups of youths.
I have personally spoken to the Fire Minister about this and NFCC has provided information to the Home Office from the recent bonfire weekend. While available prison sentences have increased, we need to see these implemented alongside the use of restorative justice and upstream support where appropriate and for young offenders. These abhorrent attacks need to stop.
“It never fails to astound and disappoint me that there are a small minority of people who will attack firefighters and other emergency service workers”
The Home Office statistics on the number of firefighters who are female or from an ethnic minority remain far too low. Diversity comes in many forms, of course, but gender and race are two critical ones. Only 7.5 per cent of firefighters are women, an increase from five per cent in the last five years, albeit with only a marginal 0.5 per cent increase in the reporting period.
The increase in firefighters from an ethnic minority now stands at only 4.7 per cent, which is only a small increase from 3.8 per cent in the last five years. It is a step in the right direction but nothing like the progress we have to make to ensure our services better reflect local communities and to improve the diversity of thought that informs our decision-making.
Leadership, equality, diversity and culture are areas I feel very strongly about. The Fire and Rescue Service should be accessible to all. It should be an inclusive workplace where every member of staff is able to realise their full potential; it should be a place where people are happy and feel like they belong – there is clearly more we need to do to make this a reality. One of the key drivers is that fire and rescue services – with national support from the NFCC – can attract the best talent from across every community. We need to drive the message home that being a firefighter is a job for anyone and everyone. A diverse workforce will resonate more with the communities we serve and build on the trust and confidence that are critical to a blue light emergency service.
To support fire services, the NFCC has a comprehensive People Programme which has a range of finished and emerging products such as: Apprenticeships; Core Code of Ethics; FRS Leadership Framework and associated Leadership Standards; Executive and Supervisory Leadership Programmes; Coaching and Mentoring; Equality of Access Statements; Equality, Diversity and Inclusion plan and toolkits, to name but a few.
Of course, having these tools developed by the sector is only the start of the journey. Next comes the task of implementing and embedding them into fire and rescue services so they become part of the fabric of the service and every member of staff, led and demonstrated by those in the most senior roles.
I have high hopes that this continuing national work will help to make this a reality and will be a driver for transformation and change as we move forward and shape the national reform agenda. I have a significant role to play in this and remain committed to an inclusive NFCC and FRS that delivers continuously improving outcomes for the public.