This UK organisation for female employees of Fire and Rescue Services was set up in 1993 and originally titled Networking Women in the Fire Service. It has since grown significantly and developed over two decades and more, changing its title to Women in the Fire Service to fully embrace the aims and goals of the organisation, namely to inspire, enable and develop women within the Service. Gulf Fire Consultant Editor Neil Wallington reports.
In 1993 Networking Women in the Fire Service (NWFS) was established as a self-help group for women in the UK Fire and Rescue Service. NWFS sought to influence the equality agenda, engaging with the major Fire & Rescue Service players in order to have the voice of all women in the Fire and Rescue Service heard.
The Network organised successful conferences and seminars, which tackled the serious issues of the time, from lack of facilities, ill-fitting uniform, to bullying and harassment. These events brought women together to share experiences, to offer mutual support, and to learn from each other’s experiences. The conferences and seminars have evolved over the years, and are unique in many ways, attracting high numbers of delegates and interest from people at national and international level.
Following a thematic review in 1999, NWFS was invited to be a full member of the group that worked on Towards Diversity I and Towards Diversity II. In 2003, following the abolition of the UK Central Fire Brigades Advisory Committee (CFBAC), the Practitioner’s Forum was established and the NWFS was given a seat which it held until that forum was disbanded. WFS representatives now attend the meetings of the UK Fire Sector Federation.
The support of individual women has been a key role for the organisation, from telephone support, one-to-one sessions with mentors and coaches. For many years NWFS delivered the popular mentoring scheme developed with partners at Anglian Ruskin University.
NWFS contribution at national level is well recognised, and it regularly receives requests for speakers at conferences and seminars as well as being invited to address organisations both within the Fire & Rescue Service, and in wider arenas. The association was incorporated in 2008 and is a not for profit organisation.
Over the last 20 years the focus of the work of the organisation has steadily evolved. In the early days it worked to raise the profile of the Fire & Rescue Service as an employer of women, providing role models to services to assist in campaigns to attract women. NWFS supported services in development of their policies, provision of suitable uniform, facilities, and equipment. Its focus then shifted to active support of services’ recruitment campaigns and positive action events.
Willingness to adopt working partnerships has been key to our success. NWFS has never adopted an adversarial approach and has a 20 year track record of creating a positive contribution to making the UK Fire & Rescue Service a better place for everyone to work.
Time for change, and a New Name
However, after consulting with its members, it was felt that the name ‘Networking Women in the Fire Service’ no longer reflected the aims and goals of the organisation, namely to inspire, enable and develop women with the Service.
2014 marked a time for change and a chance to reflect on the modernisation and evolution of NWFS. There is still a level of networking involved, but the organisation has grown to become so much more than that, with a change in focus towards training and developing members, as well as supporting them. This really did seem the right time to re-launch the organisation with a fresh new name – Women in the Fire Service UK (WFS).
The objectives of WFS are:
- to make the UK Fire & Rescue a place where men and women can work, and compete, together professionally and harmoniously.
- to provide a comprehensive support network for members
- to encourage the recruitment, retention, development and progression of women within the fire and rescue service
- to provide training and development opportunities specifically targeting women in the UK Fire & Rescue Service
- to challenge the UK Fire & Rescue Service on behalf of members
- to advise Fire & Rescue Service and the Ministry of Communities and Local Government with the aim of creating positive change
WFS has an incredible network of regional members, taking part in general get-togethers, organised development opportunities and regular meetings, and helps to fulfil the objectives of WFS and most importantly, helps support its members.
As if to demonstrate how influential the WFS and its members now are amongst the British Fire and Rescue Service, Caroline Anderson, Alex Johnson and Jules King, three longstanding WFS committee members, have been nominated for the Most Influential Woman Award in the 2018 UK Fire& Emergency Awards event. This is a real reflection of the dedication these members put into supporting and developing women in the British Fire Service.
A major event on the national WFS calendar is the annual National Training and Development Weekend staged at the Fire Service College in Gloucestershire, UK. The 2019 weekend will be staged on 21 to 23 June.
It is very clear just how much members feel empowered people after they have attended such a concentrated training event. The WFS gets some wonderful feedback from women who go on to try something new because they experienced it during the annual training and development weekend.
For more information, go to www.wfs.org.uk