The only national group campaigning for LGBT rights in the fire service has been honoured at a national awards ceremony.
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Support Group won a leadership award in the team category at the equality and diversity awards for firefighters.
The examples of good practice set by the award winners “help to bring more women, ethnic minorities, gay and disabled people into the fire and rescue service by supporting a change of culture across the organisation.”
Stewart Brown from the London Fire and Rescue Service, Patrick Carberry from the Bedfordshire Service and Yannick Dubois from East Sussex Service accepted the award.
Fire Minister Parmjit Dhanda said:
“It is vital that the Fire and Rescue service better represents the diverse communities it serves and fully harnesses all the potential available to it by providing career opportunities for all.
“These winners are showing how well this can be done.
“Their work proves that having a Fire and Rescue service that promotes equality and diversity is not an insurmountable task or about political correctness.
“It’s good common sense that’s in all of our interests, and it’s the right thing to do.”
Last week Mr Dhanda announced a new strategy to encourage gay people to join the fire service and ensure equality in career progression.
The Fire Brigades Union said that only 150 of its members are openly gay out of a uniformed workforce of 46,000.
The minister commented that fire service lags behind the police and prison service.
All 46 local fire and rescue services in England will now work towards the new aims and £2m of Government funding will be available.
Last month £3m was pledged by central government to promote improvements in equality and diversity, with an emphasis on encouraging people from groups currently under-represented to consider a career in the Service.
Stewart Brown of the award-winning Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Support Group said:
“We work on how we can make life better for gay, lesbian, bi and transgender firefighters and raise awareness of all the issues affecting them.
“At the end of the day it’s about gaining some respect from our colleagues.
“The fire service is moving in the right direction but the culture and the workforce is slow to change; we need clear leadership, a clear message and good communication.
“We’re absolutely delighted with our award and very encouraged as the only recognised national group who campaigns for LGBT rights in the fire service to gain acknowledgment from the government.”
Yannick Dubois said: “I have worked for the group for 14 years promoting LGBT issues in the Fire Service and I am very proud to get recognition for our work.
“Although we have come such a long way since the early nineties and seen new legislations protecting our rights, the workplace remains a very hostile environment.
“We will carry on providing support to our members and push the equality agenda in the Fire Service.”
A recent survey of firefighters found that while most feel valued and have good working relationships, harassment, discrimination and even assaults are not uncommon in the workplace.
A third of respondents had experienced bullying or harassment in the previous 12 months and a quarter said they had been verbally abused.
There was also evidence of discrimination by individuals against work colleagues on grounds of age, gender, sexuality and race.
“It is disturbing to see such unacceptable behaviour is taking place in today’s fire and rescue service,” said Mr Dhanda.
“No-one should be victimised, harassed or abused at work and I want to see much greater commitment from managers at all levels, to stamp out this menace wherever it occurs.”
The awards were presented at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in London at an event hosted by BBC News presenter Nicholas Owen.
There was also a presentation from the first amputee firefighter in Europe, an award winner from last year.
Simon Hawkins from Hereford and Worcester FRS lost the lower part of his left leg following a motorcycle accident in 2004.
Simon was fitted with a prosthetic limb and in 2006, and having gone through successful rehabilitation he returned to operational duty.