At a very special evening in London on Tuesday the winners of this year’s Guardian Public Service Awards were revealed. We are very proud of our members at the Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service for being awarded the Diversity & Inclusion Award.
The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service serves a population of 1.8 million people. It has 68 stations and approximately 2,230 employees, including 917 full-time firefighters. There are also 994 retained (part-time) firefighters, who have other jobs but who live and work no more than five minutes away from a fire station. The 2018 firefighter intake was 11% female, 11% were BME and 7% were LGBT. In 1991, Heather Smart became Northern Ireland’s first female firefighter – and she stayed for 27 years, retiring this year. Thanks to her efforts, more and more women are finding their vocation in the fire service.
Today, the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) employs 60 female firefighters. Even so, it remains – as in the rest of the UK – a service dominated by men. In 2017, 3.6% of the service’s firefighters were women, an increase from 2% in 2009. NIFRS has already acted to address the under-representation of firefighters from the Catholic community, but wanted to do more to improve its record on recruiting women.
It was important, says David Moore, director of human resources, to have a workforce representative of the community, but another driver was that organisations that are diverse are more successful. The organisation set a target of having at least 10% of applications from women. This involved an active approach – reaching out to women and showing them the attractions of a career in the fire service – rather than passively waiting for them to apply, but also identifying elements of the recruitment process that indirectly discriminated against women.