Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence

Memorandum by the Fire Service Research and Training Unit at Anglia Ruskin University Cambridge (FRS 43)


  Anglia Ruskin University seeks amongst other things to:

    —    Be an exemplar for partnership with commerce, the community, public sector, industry and the region.

    —    Develop recognised centres of research excellence.

    —    Achieve satisfaction that exceeds expectation.

  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.


  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 change.


  Fire and rescue service cultures can be split into two groups:

    —    the formal culture (that set by managers);

    —    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 to—including 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.


  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 Devil—fire (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.


  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 organised—or 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.


  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.


  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 firefighters—and 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 them.


  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; and

    —    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).


  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.


  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

(2001) One More Last Working Class Hero: a cultural audit of the UK fire service, Cambridge: Fitting-in. Available at

(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 Press.

(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

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

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, Cambridge.

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, London: HMSO.

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 Officers Association.

ODPM (2003) Our Fire and Rescue Service, London: ODPM.

QAA (2005) The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education Foundation Degree review May 2005 FD27/2005:—05.htm.

Straw, J (1999) "Race Equality—The 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:

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