Jaya Narain, Daily Mail (London), March 31, 2009
Pop into the firestation and the chances are there’d be a group of reassuringly burly men in there waiting for the call out, with uniforms and firefighting suits tailored for their use alone.
The one or two women among them would have to make do with ill-fitting adaptations of the men’s outfits while the handful of Muslim women in the service would be wearing their own head scarfs.
But, with the fire service anxious to attract recruits of all sexes and backgrounds, it was decided that something had to be done.
So yesterday the results were uneveiled, including full-length skirts, hijab headscarfs and long-sleeved shirts for Muslim women recruits.
The hope is that the uniforms, designed for wearing round the station and for outings such as school trips, will be smarter and better fitting for every firefighter–even the men.
For the first time also, women will get their own mustard yellow fire-fighting suit designed to protect their breasts and upper body.
This outfit was tried on yesterday by Lincolnshire firefighter Julie Smith.
‘It is right that male firefighters and female firefighters to need protection in different areas,’ she said. ‘It is very comfortable, very new and very yellow.’
Her boss Mike Thomas, Chief Fire Officer for Lincolnshire, declared the uniforms would help ‘bust’ the ‘traditional image of the hunky, British, white, male, firefighter’–even though a great many of his staff probably fit this description.
‘There are no better positive role models than women and ethnic recruits in these uniforms, and hopefully they will encourage people to join,’ he added.
Firemen in Lincolnshire will be the first to try out the new national uniform which also includes sports and maternity wear.
Fire minister Sadiq Khan added: ‘We want the widest range of applicants to apply to join the fire and rescue service.
‘To achieve this, it is important that all applicants–men and women–know that the uniform and clothing they will be issued with will not only protect them but will also fit properly and be comfortable.
‘The introduction of more appropriately fitted clothing is just one initiative to help to both retain female firefighters and encourage others to consider a fire service career.’
‘The uniform now available shows that cultural beliefs are being recognised, as we seek to increase the representation of ethnic minorities within service.’
However, in England’s Fire and Rescue Service only 5.5 per cent of all staff are from a minority ethnic background and 3.3 per cent are women.
Jagtar Singh, spokesman for the Asian Fire Service Association, said: ‘We are pleased to note that the fire service is now taking seriously the issues of culture and religious belief when purchasing corporate and protective clothing for firefighters.’