Fire service ditching outdated image in major diversity drive

"The role of the firefighter has changed significantly and the perception of the firefighter role needs to change with it."

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Press release 7 March 2017

The fire and rescue service is shaking off its outdated image in a major drive to change the public's perception of firefighters, a new report outlines today.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents all fire and rescue authorities in England and Wales, is launching ‘An Inclusive Service: The 21st Century Fire and Rescue Service', at the LGA annual fire conference in Gateshead today.

The report argues that while the role of firefighters has changed dramatically in the last few years, many potential recruits are deterred by outdated perceptions of the job.

As the number of fires has more than halved over the past decade, the 21st century firefighter's role has focused on community safety and harm prevention, with home safety visits - expanded to become safe and well visits in several areas - going beyond fire risk to address social care issues such as falls prevention, or alcohol use.

The fire service is increasingly working in tandem with health partners, other emergency services and councils on issues such as modern slavery and co-responding with the ambulance service.

Financial constraints have limited recruitment of firefighters in recent years - but that is changing, says the LGA.

Most fire services in England now expect to recruit firefighters during the next five years - particularly within the next two, LGA research shows.

With a firefighter workforce that is approximately 95 per cent white and male, 80 per cent of fire and rescue services are planning recruitment initiatives to encourage diversity.

The LGA's report is designed to encourage and assist this trend and stresses the need to challenge existing stereotypes of who can be a firefighter and what the job involves.

Cllr Jeremy Hilton, Chair of the LGA's Fire Services Management Committee, said:

"The role of the firefighter has changed significantly and the perception of the firefighter role needs to change with it.

"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.

"We want the 21st century firefighter to be perceived as just as likely to be a woman as a man, free of racial and identity stereotypes, as likely to be visiting schools to provide fire safety advice as running into a burning building.

"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."

Case studies

Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service

Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service held a recent recruitment drive for wholetime firefighters, the first in over seven years, which aimed to encourage under-represented female and minority ethnic applicants. The communication strategy moved away from ‘tokenistic' gestures traditionally associated with equality and recruitment campaigns and applications were limited to within 20 miles of Gloucestershire's borders to ensure it attracted those most likely to have an intimate interest in the area and the communities they would serve. Direct engagement with mosque leaders, local councillors, LGBT representatives, sports facilities, schools, community groups, ethnic-hair dressers and fast food outlets established relationships well before any recruitment drive, added credibility to the campaign and actually helped to promote it. A set of "Frequently Asked Questions" was drafted to answer any concerns on how the Service actively welcomed cultural and religious diversity, explaining that considerations around keeping beards, fasting, prayers, dreadlocks, etc., were managed entirely within the context of maintaining firefighter safety. Advertising to a range of women's organisations and groups took place through social media and publicity material was designed to visually reflect BME communities. Valuable local community radio exposure generated through a live interview was followed by adverts produced by an experienced black crew manager. The campaign resulted in some significant success in attracting applications from BME communities with the proportion of minority applicants (5.1 per cent) only marginally less than the county's overall population of 6.2 per cent. Although female interest was considerable, resulting applications (10 per cent) was less successful and a review is underway to better understand the reasons for this.

Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service

Between 2000 and 2013 Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service carried out only one wholetime recruitment campaign, resulting in 12 firefighter appointments. Wholetime recruitment campaigns have been held annually since.

In preparation for a wholetime recruitment campaign in 2015, Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service developed a media and social media campaign plan. This included holding ‘have a go' sessions for female journalists and one aimed specifically at women; using paid for advertising on social media to target women, including a video on YouTube; profiling firefighters on the Service's website including women and staff who identify as BME; holding information sessions in community centres where there is ethnic and cultural diversity; and advertising through Women in the Fire Service and Asian Fire Service Association Networks, and LGBT magazine "Fynetimes".

Four women reporters took part in the 'have a go' session, with a total of 42 people attending the sessions, of which 47 per cent were women. A total of 221 applications were received, of which 13 per cent were women (compared to 7 per cent in 2014); 6 per cent identified as being of a black or minority ethnic group (compared to 4 per cent in 2014); 5 per cent requested reasonable adjustments; and 3 per cent identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual. Of the successful recruits, 29 per cent were women and 10 per cent identify as BME - the highest percentage of both women and BME the Service has ever had in one intake. The campaign was repeated in 2016.

In the past few years, focus has been placed on recruiting a more diverse team of retained firefighters, which has resulted in a 103 per cent rise in applications (122 applicants in 2012 to 248 in 2013) and an 89 per cent increase in the numbers of female applicants, from nine to 17.  Appointments of women to on-call operational roles have increased as well and in the last three years this amounted to seven compared to three in the previous three years. 

Ethnic diversity in applicants has increased from 4 per cent in 2012/13 to 7 per cent in 2015/16. Other activities include unconscious bias training, attending selected career events at schools and colleges, particularly in diverse areas, and in partnership with the police holding quarterly "Insight to Blue Light" sessions - aimed specifically at people from BME backgrounds - to inform people about employment opportunities in emergency services.

London Fire Brigade

In 2016 London Fire Brigade developed a new and ambitious 10-year Inclusion Strategy: ‘Safer Together'— to attract a more diverse and inclusive workforce. When the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, published details of the pay gap between men and women working within the Greater London Authority's ‘functional bodies' last year, London Fire Brigade was the only member with no gender pay gap among operational staff.

Recent recruitment campaigns have involved placing adverts in the Facebook newsfeed of women aged 18-40 in London who were interested in fitness and sports which require a great deal of upper body strength, which has generated the highest percentage of women applicants over these campaign periods. The Service has also specifically targeted women's rugby clubs.


Cornwall Fire, Rescue and Community Safety Service has a Community Engagement Equality Diversity (CEED) Strategic Lead for sexual orientation and gender self-identify.

As well as operational firefighters, a key outlook of the Service – which gained the Excellent level of the Fire and Rescue Service Equality Framework – is on staff as community health, safety and wellbeing advocates who help the community to live independently, reduce risk and improve community resilience.

The Service mainstreamed CEED and linked it to competencies, promotional assessments, case studies for management practices, community engagement work and linked it to objectives within everyone's PDRs. It also has "CEED Champions" who provide strategic direction and support for the protected characteristics. These are useful for targeted events and where the service needs to focus on an area for a particular reason.

Flexi Duty Officer Kathryn Billing says: "We have become a more community-focussed health, safety and wellbeing service, more integrated with the council, positive in our written commitments to challenge inappropriate behaviour. We engage with diverse groups, open our stations to the community, support our firefighters to change and come up with the initiatives to work with at risk people and help them understand why different does not mean weak and unprofessional, it means exciting and something new."

Notes to editors

  1. An Inclusive Service: The 21st Century Fire and Rescue Service was launched today at the LGA Fire Conference at Hilton Newcastle Gateshead.
  2. The LGA, together with National Fire Chiefs Council, Asian Fire Service Association, Women in the Fire Service, quiltbag, Stonewall, Fire Brigades Union, Fire Officers' Association, Association of Principal Fire Officers, Retained Firefighters Union, Unison and GMB, has signed a Memorandum of Understanding on equality, diversity, behaviours and organisational culture in the Fire Service.
  3. The number of fires attended by fire and rescue services in England has fallen by 52 per cent, from 336,107 in 2005/6 to 162,034 in 2015/16 (Table 0103
  4. The LGA survey which was sent to Chief Fire Officers and Chief Executives of FRAs, was conducted in England and had responses from 40 fire and rescue services (89 per cent response rate).
  5. The LGA's annual Fire Conference takes place on March 7-8 at Hilton Newcastle Gateshead. For accreditation, email [email protected]