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Fire service drive to recruit more gays and lesbians

PinkNews Staff Writer May 21, 2008

The Fire Minister has announced a new strategy to encourage gay people to join the fire service and ensure equality in career progression.

Despite good work from some fire services, notably London and Yorkshire, who earlier this year were listed as top employers for LGB people, much more needs to be done locally and nationally.

The Fire Brigades Union said that only 150 of its members are openly gay out of a uniformed workforce of  46,000.

Parmjit Dhanda, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department of Communities and Local Government, said the 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 to consider a career in the Fire and Rescue Service.

The minister said he wants to change attitudes and behaviours within the day to day life of the service.

A new 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.

“People become firefighters because they want a rewarding career and to save lives, but currently the service often misses out on the talent and potential that gay people have to offer.

“This is not about political correctness, but about providing opportunity for all and finding the best skilled and talented people across communities.

“This will ensure the fire service not only better represents the communities they serve but enhances protection for everyone. The challenge now is for fire services to get out there and find and recruit them.”

The new national strategy requires each fire chief to take action that leads to real progress, contributing details of what they have achieved to an annual report.

Yannick Dubois, Chair of the National Gay and Lesbian Committee (FBU) and Watch Manager, East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service said:

“I joined the fire service following a suggestion from a friend to be a retained firefighter at my local fire station.

“I absolutely love my work despite problems I have encountered regarding fire service culture especially at the beginning of my career.

“Tremendous changes have happened regarding our rights but little has changed in the workplace.

“Most of all we provide support for our members who are often not out at work in fear of bullying and harassment. We also provide the opportunity for them to meet and support each other.

Stonewall recognised the London Fire Brigade and West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Services in their top 100 employers list earlier this year.

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