We work in an environment in which the term “Fireman” is a stereotypical term commonly used which may deter women from applying and joining up with the fire service. The aim of the current project that the Chiefs of Ireland are taking on is to promote diversity in the fire service and to outline that the role is not a fire “man” but in fact a fire “Fighter” (#WFSN), which we back 100%.
Have the Chiefs considered the facilities in the stations?
Yes, it is understood that there is a lack of diversity within the staff that work directly for the fire service. Approximately 1.6% of the retained brigade is made up of female front-line staff and senior officers. But what the public don’t realise is in fact there are many females working “indirectly” for the fire service, and by this we mean the spouses of the current serving personnel. Upon joining up with the retained service, it is outlined to you that it is not only you that is being recruited, but that of your whole family. So, is the existing commitment of these women now not being considered?
We appreciate examples of real-life scenarios so here are some to think of based over a weekly period. Let’s consider a family of 3; Mother, Father (Firefighter) and 2-year-old child (not yet eligible for the ECCE scheme):
- The Firefighter is rostered on for the week with the service (168 hours, 120 more than allowed by legislation). At no point during this week can the father look after the child, so clearly the Mother is also working said Firefighter’s 168 hours.
- Mother is back working, and the child is in childcare. Mother drops the child in the morning, carries out her work duties for the day, and collects the child afterwards. For this week alone, if there were no calls for said station, Mother has to foot the bill of childcare as retained is based on a “Pay per call” situation (excluding the quarterly retainer payment).
- Annual Leave sometimes must be utilised in order for Firefighter to solely care for his/her child.
- Mother wants to run to the shop for 10 minutes just to get out of the house. Child must be brought.
Is there really a lack of female presence in the Fire Service? Not necessarily. The point can be made that when the family is at home, the father can mind his child, but only for the fact that Mother is nearby in case of emergency. If mother wants to go away, and with poor crewing numbers in a station, another family member may have to be called in order to accommodate being on call with the service, possibly a Mother, Mother in law, Sister or Auntie? With these points in mind, we start to realise that in fact, yes, there are actually more women working “indirectly” for the fire service than you think!
So, getting back to the issues present in the fire service is not about the lack of women who work in the service, but more so the service itself. As mentioned in the opening speech of the 2018 Chief Fire Officers conference in Westport, “the current model is not fit for purpose” …. “If one thing is abundantly clear it is that there is no easy solution, but neither is there the option to do nothing – the system is not far from falling over so we must arrest that fall, and arrest it now”! (May 2018).
The Firefighters of today’s world accept what is trying to be achieved, and would get behind it 100%, however they do not appreciate the fact that this diversion is trying to take place at a time where the service is “not fit for purpose”. We need to fix the issues that are with us at present rather than introducing other men or women into an already broken system. The fire service needs to learn to walk again before it runs and ensure that it can offer a new recruit a permanent, pensionable and attractive position in one of Ireland’s most vital services.
The current firefighters of Ireland want clarification on what is going to be the future of the service, let alone their lives. How can we sustain a position whereby we are currently breaking European Legislative law? How is a firefighter meant to (A) live and (B) support his family on a wage that is not within the current economic structure of this country. Our “Recruitment & Retention” article found here outlines a little about rental prices in this country. It also informs of the rent allowance our full-time colleagues are in receipt of, however this is called something different now.
It is outlined through public interview that the retained system makes up two thirds of our Fire service in Ireland, when in fact it is actually ten elevenths, far more than what is being quoted. We have 204 Retained stations and 19 Full time stations in the country. It is these 204 stations and its personnel that are affected by the recent European ruling whereby the majority are working 4 times over the amount regulated by European legislation. Hours worked, pensions, housing/ rental relief, retirement age, positions and much more, are all items which are of concern to firefighters across the country. We now need answers.
The National Retained Firefighters Association agrees with advancing diversity within the fire service. We are also prepared to work with the fire authorities of Ireland to help in their campaign to achieve this. But the issues which are still present in today’s service need to be fixed first and foremost, otherwise why should we influence people to join what is an extremely rewarding role that unfortunately exists within a broken service, this factor alone will not recruit and retain firefighters!