Memorandum by the Fire Service Research
and Training Unit at Anglia Ruskin University Cambridge (FRS 43)
1. ANGLIA RUSKIN
Anglia Ruskin University seeks amongst other
Be an exemplar for partnership
with commerce, the community, public sector, industry and the
Develop recognised centres of
Achieve satisfaction that exceeds
As part of this mission Anglia Ruskin University
established in 2001 a Fire Service Research and Training Unit
(FSRTU), and a Foundation and BA Honours degree in Public Service.
Dr Dave Baigent leads on both of these initiatives. Dave probably
has a unique experience for this role; his PhD research on fire
service culture provides groundbreaking evidence of the way that
formal and informal cultures operate (Baigent 2001) and his 12
years academic experience is grounded by his previous career as
a firefighter for over 30 years.
2. FIRE AND
The main argument of this submission concerns
the complicated cultural arrangements operating in the fire and
rescue service. Many of the difficulties in the fire and rescue
service are blamed on "the culture." This appears to
be a catch all phrase to almost pass the blame for all the fire
and rescue service's ills to something that occurs as if naturally.
Few people appear to have any real understanding of the issues
surrounding cultural influences and even less people recognise
that culture is a quantifiable phenomenon capable of study and
3. INFORMAL HIERARCHY
Fire and rescue service cultures can be split
into two groups:
the formal culture (that set
the informal culture (organised
in the workplace by the watch/peer group).
It is argued that each watch on a fire station
has an informal hierarchy (culture) through which older firefighters
pass onto the next generations the skills required to be a firefighter
(Baigent 2001). New trainees soon recognise that work, talk and
learning can become something to look forward toincluding
firefighting because this risk associated atmosphere provides
an opportunity for firefighters to prove they can overcome fear
and not let their "mates" down. This process of "fitting-in"
the next generation is both positive and negative; for the majority
of firefighters the watch is their primary reference group for
understanding the world and through which they develop their identity.
4. THE IMAGERY
But the public do not share firefighter's enjoyment
of risk and danger. The public are frightened of fire and the
fact that firefighters "go into buildings as everyone else
is running out" gives firefighters a special public image.
Firefighters in effect become a White Knight that overcomes the
Red Devilfire (or anything else that endangers the public).
As a result firefighters can be feted and their work has a masculine
image. Many of those men who join the service do so to benefit
from this imagery. In the UK this has led to a situation where
the fire and rescue service employs mainly white working class
men. Despite such a situation being unacceptable in the 21st century,
the informal culture operating in the fire and rescue service
resists attempts to create a more diverse workforce.
5. NEGATIVE INFLUENCE
The process of socialisation of new firefighters
by fitting them in can be positive. However, if managers try to
impose changes that threaten the way peer group leaders believe
their fire and rescue service should be organisedor challenge
the current white male identity of firefighters, the informal
culture can become a platform for resistance. This became clear
when, in the face of a recorded history of the harassment of women
(Baigent 1996; Baigent 2004a) the Home Secretary set employment
targets to improve the employment of women and ethnic minorities
(Straw 1999). The outcome was a considerable support for the employment
of a diverse workforce (HMCIFS 1999)but little has changed.
Despite additional pressure from government (Bain 2002; ODPM 2003)
and a wake up call from within the fire and rescue service (McGuirk
2002), women are still harassed (Caplen 2004; Kaplen 2004; Wright
2005). In addition I would add that so many cases of harassment
come across my desk that I am currently organising a second national
survey of women firefighters to identify the changes since my
1966 survey (Baigent 1996).
In the same way as the fire and rescue service
has resisted the employment of women (and to a large extent those
men who do not conform to the image that the majority of current
firefighters have of themselves), many in the fire and rescue
service still appear to resist the employment of ethnic minorities.
At the Local Government Association Annual Conference a paper
on the likely outcomes of a "Secret Firefighter" documentary
(in similar terms to the one the BBC screened on the police) received
a muted reception (Baigent 2004b). Given the very difficult statistics
for the employment of ethnic minorities in some areas of the country,
it may be possible to argue that the rebuke of "institutional
racism" that was levelled against the police (Macpherson
1999) may well apply in the fire and rescue service.
7. CULTURAL RESISTANCE
There are many changes planned for the fire
and rescue service (ODPM 2003). The Government have taken a strategic
view by setting the boundaries and left the fire and rescue service
to achieve them. The Chief Fire Officers Association's new core
values (Hurran 2005) are designed to bring about the type of revolutionary
change that management consultants would applaud (Burke 2002).
However, without a firm understanding of the complicated array
of cultural arrangements operating in the fire and rescue service
(in particular their cell-like organisation and how this acts
to protect its legacy for the next generation of firefighters),
having a bureaucracy in place (including IPDS) may not lead to
the cultural colonisation that modernisers would hope for.
8. THE CONUNDRUM
Firefighters' informal culture hangs onto the
past. Male firefighters in particular have much invested in ensuring
that this remains so. Many of these male firefighters join the
fire and rescue service to be seen in the heroic image that the
public have of firefightersand it is only at emergency
incidents that they can prove to themselves equal to this image.
It is important not to forget that when called upon, firefighters
actually do live up to their heroic (masculine) identity. In so
doing they set themselves apart from those "others"
that many in the fire and rescue service believe cannot fit-in.
It is here that the conundrum lies, because the only reason that
some groups cannot fit-in is because firefighters will not let
9. ANGLIA RUSKIN
To assist with breaking this cultural lock-in,
with the help of the Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service, the
FSRTU was formed by Anglia Ruskin University in 2001. There have
been several pieces of research but the most notable to date is
their cultural audit of initial training. During the year long
research, 15 training establishments within the UK were audited.
Three arguments became clear from this research:
new entrants to the fire and
rescue service came to serve;
it was up to the training centre
how trainees' view of "service" was operationalised;
that many training establishments
were perpetuating negative informal cultural beliefs.
The subsequent "Sunrise Report" provided
ways of both unpicking the cultural lock-in of fitting-in and
for increasing the profile of fire prevention (Baigent 2003).
This report provided an industry standard for those fire and rescue
services looking to resist the perpetuation of informal cultures
during training (and received the support of Her Majesty's Chief
Inspector of Fire and rescue service).
10. PUBLIC SERVICE
At the same time as FSRTU was established Anglia
Ruskin University also supported me in writing the first foundation
degree in public service (ARU 2001). The degree, now in its fourth
year, was planned with the help of the emergency services to take
a critical view of public service delivery. Two degrees are now
offered and they provide academic capital from a mix of sociology,
politics, cultural studies, law, forensic science, as well as
the newly developing subject of public service. The degrees also
anticipated the need for increased multi agency working within
the emergency services by delivering a generic programme for the
police, fire, prison and revenue and customs service and all three
wings of the military. These links and the flexibility that Anglia
Ruskin provides in its efforts to serve the emergency services
means that the Public Service Degree is well placed to support
and teach resilience. This year the Public Service Degree completed
a very successfully audit by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA
2005) and in 2006 will also be delivered online.
11. A WILLINGNESS
It is difficult to fully do justice to the considerable
contribution that the FSRTU, the Public Service Degree and the
growing body of expertise on public services at Anglia Ruskin
University has and will make toward fire and rescue service modernisation,
resilience and diversity. Our expertise, particularly about the
resistance coming from the complicated cultural arrangements operating
in the fire and rescue service is probably unparalleled in the
UK. We offer academic integrity and rigor that has been developed
from my 12 years in academia and an ability to ground this understanding
through my previous career of over 30 years as a firefighter.
ARU (2001) Public Service Foundation Degree:
Baigent, D (1996) Who Rings the Bell? A Gender
Study Looking at the British Fire Service, its Firefighters and
Equal Opportunities, Cambridge: Fitting-in Available at www.fitting-in.com/diss.
(2001) One More Last Working Class Hero: a cultural
audit of the UK fire service, Cambridge: Fitting-in. Available
(2004a) "Fitting-in: the conflation of firefighting,
male domination, and harassment", in J G a P Morgan (ed)
In the Company of Men: re-discovering the links between sexual
harassment and male domination, Boston: North Eastern University
(2004b) The secret fire-fighter: revelations of
inequality in the fire service, Vol 23-2-04: Local Government
Association Annual Conference (Fire), Manchester, UK.
Baigent, D, with Hill, R, Ling, T, Skinner, D, Rolph,
C and Watson, A (2003), Sunrise a new dawn in training: training
today's firefighters as the emergency workers for tomorrow,
Cambridge: Fitting-in Available at www.fitting-in.com/sunrise.pdf.
Bain, G (2002) The Future of the Fire Service:
reducing risk, saving lives, London: ODPM.
Burke, W (2002) Organization Change: Theory and
Practice, London: Sage.
Caplen, K (2004) Women Firefighters: Comparing
and contrasting recent employment experiences in the UK and the
USA: Fitting-in Available at www.fitting-in.com/caplen.htm.
HMCIFS (1999) Equality and Fairness in the Fire
Service: A thematic Review by HM Fire Service Inspectorate,
London: Home Office.
Hurran, J (2005) "National Corre Values"
Creative Strategies for Creative Challenges, Homerton College,
Kaplen, C (2004) Women Firefighters: Comparing
and contrasting recent employment experiences in the UK and the
USA: Fitting-in Available at www.fittingin/caplen.htm.
Macpherson, W (1999) The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry,
McGuirk, S (2002) "Are We Serious" A
strategic approach to long term equality and diversity in the
UK Fire Service, Tamworth: Chief and Assistant Chief Fire
ODPM (2003) Our Fire and Rescue Service, London:
QAA (2005) The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher
Education Foundation Degree review May 2005 FD27/2005: http://www.qaa.ac.uk/reviews/reports/subjectLevel/fd2705.htm.
Straw, J (1999) "Race EqualityThe Home
Secretaries Employment Targets", London: Home Office.
Wright, T (2005) A comparison of the experiences
of lesbians and heterosexual women in a non-traditionally female
occupation, the fire service: fitting-in.com.