Female recruitment ‘core’ to Essex Fire Service’s cultural change

Just 37 women are working as front line fire fighters in Essex compared to a total of 625 – a number which the fire commissioner says must continue to change given the backdrop of severe criticisms of  its workplace culture.

Roger Hirst said that a fire service dominated by male ethos helped lead to a damning report in 2015 that spelled out “dangerous and pervasive bullying” following claims of a “intimidatory culture” at Essex fire service.

The independent cultural review was commissioned by the then Essex Fire Authority after reports of incidents that led the review to describe the organisational culture at the fire service as “toxic”.

Speaking of the service’s challenge to recruit more women he told the Essex Police Fire and Crime panel: “That is absolutely to the core of the cultural change programme we need to implement.

“The nature of the fire service nationally has historically been one that has been dominated by male ethos, perhaps even a macho male ethos.

“And we know from the reports in 2015 that had some dire consequences for the nature of Essex Fire and Rescue as an employer and needs to change.

“We have a programme in place to make that happen.”

A follow-up report says there have been improvements in industrial relations and workplace culture.

But staff remain largely white and male and there is a “masculine ethos”, according to the report.

Mr Hirst said: “We had not recruited for nine years which had a bearing on our ability to change.

“I am very pleased that the way we are running it now means we are able to recruit.

“There is more flexibility in the service and we are taking more people on.

“From the first round of recruitment from 2017 we learnt a lot about where women dropped out and that was to do with particular elements of the physical tests. So we have been putting that right.”

Half the number of new firefighters at the most recent graduation were women. But Mr Hirst added that he was determined to continue to target women for recruitment – despite some opposition.

He said: “I was delighted at the last passing out parade that three of the seven were female, which was great.

“At that sort of pace it is going to take quite a while to change, but that is the sort of the pace we are going to have to move at.

“We have to change the way we recruit and change the way we advertise. It has been controversial. There are some who think that we should treat everyone equally and if it is white men in their 30s who wish to apply then it is white men in their 30s who wish to apply.

“We certainly need to get cleverer than that. And we have done.

“A woman being appointed as chef executive was part of that cultural change.”

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Mick Ferris

Editor Email: [email protected]