Time to end 'age-old stereotypes' about firefighters says women's organisation
and live on Freeview channel 276
As International Women’s Day approached, fire and rescue services were urged to challenge “age-old stereotypes” and shift perceptions of how the modern service works.
In the latest report for our Your Right to Know campaign, the YEP looks at how West Yorkshire’s fire service compares.
Home Office data shows there were 62 on-call and full-time female firefighters in West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service (WYFRS) in 2019 compared to 1,031 men. That means just 5.7 per cent of its operational workforce were women.
Despite rising slightly from 3.7 per cent in 2014, it leaves the service below the national average of 6.4 per cent.
Volunteer-led organisation Women in the Fire Service UK says that despite an increasing number of female firefighters signifying a “huge cultural shift,” further education is vital to promote firefighting as a career for all genders.
A WFS UK spokeswoman said: “The general public don’t give much consideration to the gender of firefighters.
“All they are concerned about is that when they call 999 requesting the fire service, that help arrives.”
She said many young people guess the gender split is around 50-50 and are shocked to learn there are just six of every 100 roles is filled by a woman.
“Unfortunately, it’s down to education,” she said. “Many still see the role of a firefighter as a ‘fireman’ – someone who will be a hero and throw you over his shoulder and bring you out of a burning building as in films, but this is not how modern fire and rescue services operate.”
WFS UK believes services should do more to promote the varied nature of the role and battle against “age-old stereotypes.”
Among the action points in a workforce plan drawn up by WYFRS for 2018-2021 is supporting HeforShe, a United Nations solidarity campaign for the advancing of gender equality.
It was in evidence yesterday as WYFRS used its social media accounts to raise the issue.
Assistant Chief Fire Officer Nick Smith said: “It’s the qualities and strengths of the individual that make us a great team.”
The service's work around recruitment also appears to be helping, with the latest figures showing almost 10 per cent of the 88 firefighters joining in 2018/19 were women.
Meanwhile, a children’s book challenging stereotypes in firefighting has been written by a member of WYFRS.
The book, named Firefighter Ruby, was written by former journalist Emma Greenhalgh, who has worked in public relations for the service for six years.
She said: “Stereotypes and external perceptions around firefighting being a male-only career do create a barrier, when in reality the fire service is a welcoming place for men and women alike.
"I wanted to write this book to deliver a really positive message at a grassroots level, to show little girls that they can be heroes too.”
It has won the backing of WFS UK, which said the book was a "great tool to start a conversation in schools and homes which empowers girls to believe in their own potential."
The Yorkshire Evening Post's Your Right to Know campaign is using Freedom of Information legislation and official data to take a closer look at how your taxes are spent and how the city's public organisations are performing. Email [email protected] to tell us about any issues you would like us to investigate.