Fire

FireWorks finishes with a bang! Anglia Rusking University and ESF funded 'FireWorks: For Equality in the Fire Service' project came to an end in December last year. The Executive Summary containing the project's conclusions and recommendations was issued to the delegates at the final conference in Cambridge on December 12-13 and the full final report will be published at the end of this month.(Equality and Diversity)

THIS MAJOR RESEARCH PROJECT took place at a time when fire and rescue services were grappling with an enormous number of change initiatives, and was specifically designed to be of practical help to fire and rescue services in managing the diversity initiatives and identifying and disseminating the learning taking place. This paper describes the approach taken by the project, and presents its conclusions and recommendations to a wider readership for consideration.

Towards A Diverse Workforce

The FireWorks project--2003-2005 was timely in that it fell within the UK Government Social Inclusion Agenda when legislation aimed at removing social and employment barriers to under-represented groups was being introduced and/or strengthened. A diverse workforce is one of the key indicators of a fair, inclusive, democratic society and in 1999 Jack Straw as the Home Secretary set targets for the English Fire and Rescue Service which required it to ensure that by 2009:

* Fifteen per cent of firefighters are women;

* Seven per cent of the total Fire and Rescue Service workforce is from minority ethnic groups.

The project, jointly funded by Anglia Ruskin University and the European Social Fund, aimed to assist the Service in its attempts to meet these targets and address the equality and diversity issues identified in the Independent Review of the Fire and Rescue Service by Bain (2002)(i). To this end, the research aim was stated as:

'To identify and address the barriers to the employment, retention and promotion of women and minority ethnic groups (W/ME) within the FRS'.

However it was further intended that the research activity required to achieve this aim would provide more than a purely academic report. The research team was mindful that practical help in achieving the government targets was, in many ways, as important to the Service as further knowledge of the issues. Therefore we identified a number of intended research outputs which informed the design of the research with the aim of facilitating networking and the sharing of good practice between fire and rescue services and, where possible, other uniformed emergency service personnel. These included:

* The provision of an arena, throughout the project, for the discussion and promotion of equality and diversity issues in the Service and exchange of good practice;

* A contribution to the development of policy within the Service modernisation agenda, eg, informed comment on Fire and Rescue Service diversity targets;

* Practical tools for understanding local communities and evaluating the impact of Service diversity initiatives including diversity training, and initiatives involving local communities.

Scope of Research

The research took p(ace with the valued assistance of 17 English fire and rescue services, which collectively represented services governed by each of the four types of fire authority, rural and urban services, services in locations with substantial minority ethnic populations and services operated primarily by either wholetime or retained duty system firefighters.

However, the research and feedback from the project was not limited to these sample services. The research team hew a number of well attended free conferences and interactive seminars to disseminate interim findings and collect feedback from participants, All in all Service staff from over 40 fire and rescue services were involved in developing parts of the research.

Other contributors to the project included young people and their families, who were located through the Connexions service. This part of the work was investigating the perceptions that young people and their parents have of the Service as a potential employer, with regard to their gender and ethnicity.

In order to facilitate the collaborative working focus of the research, and to provide the researchers with on-going evaluation and monitoring of research activity, a stakeholder group was convened with representatives from a wide range of representative and statutory bodies with an interest in equality and diversity in the Fire and Rescue Service. …

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