LGA calls for greater diversity in whitewashed fire and rescue services

A new scheme was launched on Tuesday to push for greater diversity in the fire and rescue service in an attempt to shake off its outdated image.

The LGA, which represents all fire and rescue authorities in England and Wales, launched the report: ‘An Inclusive Service: The 21st Century Fire and Rescue Service’ at the its fire conference in Gateshead in a bid to promote greater diversity in its workforce, which is currently 95% white and male.

The LGA argued that despite the role of firefighters changing dramatically over the past few years, it believes the outdated perceptions of the job are putting off potential new recruits from applying to be firefighters.

The report explained that due to the number of fires being halved over the past decade, the modern firefighter’s role focused more around community safety and harm prevention, as home safety visits put in place to make communities safer went beyond fire risk aversion to address social care issues like alcoholism and fall prevention.

It was also revealed that 80% of fire services were currently planning recruitment initiatives to promote greater diversity in their workforces – something that the report released today hopes to build on going forward.

Speaking about the organisation’s push for greater diversity, Cllr Jeremy Hilton, chair of the LGA’s Fire Services Management Committee, said: “We are missing out on an enormous pool of talent because too many people think this is not a profession for them. No business would expect to thrive by doing this and nor can we.

“We need to make the public understand the range of activities the job involves, if we are to attract the best recruits.”

Cllr Hilton added that the 21st century firefighter should be seen as just as likely to be a woman as a man, free of racial and identity stereotypes, and also as likely to be visiting schools to provide fire safety advice, as well as the heroic image of running into a burning building.

He said: “Fire services across the country are already seeing some positive results from inclusivity recruitment initiatives to attract, develop and retain a more diverse workforce and it is vital that this work continues if fire and rescue services are to better reflect the communities they serve.

“We are committed to seizing the opportunity to change both the demographics of the workforce and the perception of our work to ensure a fire service career is a job for all.”

The work builds on schemes already put in place such as London Fire Brigade’s 10-year ‘Safer Together’ inclusion strategy that was implemented to attract a more diverse and inclusive workforce.

Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue also reported ethnic diversity in their applicants going up by 4% from 2012-13, a figure which could partially be put down to unconscious bias training, attending selected career events at schools and colleges, particularly in diverse areas, and holding quarterly “Insight to Blue Light” sessions aimed specifically at people from BME backgrounds to inform people about employment opportunities in the emergency services.