Daily Express uses firefighters to stir up racism and sexism

by Jess McCabe // 13 February 2008, 10:26

expressfire.gifExplain to me this: how does a national newspaper make the leap from one fire service setting aside a few days to recruit women and ethnic minorities, to "white men banned" from joining?

Well, perhaps if you write to the Daily Express, they will be able to give some other explanation for this story, headlined "White men are banned", but it seems like an obvious attempt to stir up racism and sexism in its readers* to me.

The bosses held five open days to attract new recruits - with four strictly limited to either women, ethnic minorities or both. They insisted they had acted lawfully. But the move sparked outrage among MPs, serving firefighters and racial equality groups.

No, this isn't a case of positive discrimination. No, white men are not being turned away from fire stations in droves. There were a couple of recruitment days designed by one fire service to make women and ethnic minority appliants feel more comfortable by assuring them they wouldn't be massively outnumbered by white men. This prompted "outrage"? In all seriousness?

But Tory MP Philip Davies, who is a campaigner against political correctness, said the move by Avon Fire Service was “absolutely disgusting”. “This sort of thing just makes people’s blood boil and does more damage than good to race relations,” he said. “How would people react if women and black people were banned from an open day?”

The MP for Shipley in West Yorkshire added: “I don’t care whether the fire service is only made up of ethnic minority women - as long as they are the best people at fighting fires."

If the Chief Fire Officer is so concerned, he should give up his job to an ethnic minority woman instead of depriving other white men of a job.”

Let's just unpick this a bit - first we have the notion that attempting to attract ethnic minorities and women into the fire service "makes people's blood boil". Only if you're a racist misogynist, Mr Davies. This is swiftly followed by an assertion that he doesn't care if the "fire service is only made up of ethnic minority women" - which is supposed to assure us that this MP is not actually racist or misogynist, but in fact does the opposite. Because he clearly sees it as acceptable to exaggerate for rhetorical effect by imagining a fire service staffed exclusively by ethnic minority women. In a reality where the service is to all intents and purposes staffed exclusively by white men, and most people probably equate fire fighters with white men, this steers dangerously close to ridiculing the very concept of ethnic minority women as fire fighters.

But we can also deduce from this that Davies doesn't care that the profession is currently shutting out anyone - after all, as he says himself: what does it matter, as long as the job gets done?

And then we get to the absolute pinnacle of his statement, which I'm going to repeat in all its glory: "If the Chief Fire Officer is so concerned, he should give up his job to an ethnic minority woman instead of depriving other white men of a job."

Yep, that's right folks!

We've made a massive leap from a recruitment day to attract more diverse applicants, to "depriving other white men of a job". Those jobs are, after all, set aside by society in perpetuity for white men, so giving them to anyone else is depriving a white man of a job.

Lasting six hours, two sessions were limited to women and ethnic minorities, one to ethnic minorities only and one to women only. Only one was open to all.

Avon Fire Service said they were trying to target minorities because up to 95 per cent of their 868 firefighters are white men.

Just to switch that last statistic around, only around 44 firefighters in this service are white or ethnic minority women, or ethnic minority men. Fourty four, out of 868. And yet the outrage that "only one" of three sessions were open to white men? The fire service is not operating some kind of positive discrimination quota system, remember. They are holding recruitment days.

Luckily for those 44 people, and anyone else other than white men who are thinking of becoming fire fighters, this sentiment does not seem to be shared by the fire service itself. Despite the Express' assertion that the idea sparked outrage in "serving firefighters", the story manages to quote only a single, unnamed fire fighter as objecting to this policy.

* Apparently successfully - don't read the comments on this story unless you feel like your blood pressure is in need of a bit of excitement. For example:

As I watch my blond, curly haired, toddler grandson I feel sad that his genes, and mine, will dissapear but it is inevitable unless we take a stand and demand England for our own.

Comments From You

jagtar // Posted 15 February 2008 at 09:36

Well done Jess. I too had my blood ressure raised but felt i did not wish to waste my time giving the racist, sexist, homephobic bigots more fuel. You meassured and clear anaysis should now but a end to this debate. Unless some wants to qustion why over 90% of recruit courses for firefighters have only white men on them

Lawrence E. Quinn Sr. // Posted 15 February 2008 at 16:00

Kudos to Jagtar, if the UK had stayed out of the colonization business they would not have problems now. The chickens are coming home to roost.

Jess McCabe // Posted 15 February 2008 at 18:29

I'm no fan of colonialisation, but I don't know about the implications of this Lawrence - are you suggesting that it was a bad thing because it has put us in a position where we are a multicultural society, which has led to this kind of issue? I don't think we should see the diversity of the population as a negative which could have been avoided.

Lawrence E. Quinn Sr. // Posted 15 February 2008 at 21:48

Jess,Jess, what a mess; two quotes " multicultured " and " diversity ". What's wrong with a multicultured,diverse fire service ? No one becomes a qualified fire fighter until they are trained and have experience. How did Tory MP Phillip Davies get his job the first time ? Jagtar, please put your e-mail address on the IABPFF DRUM. In the U.S. of A. we black yanks call 95% white fire service a good ol boys club.

Jess McCabe // Posted 15 February 2008 at 22:41

Um, exactly, I think!?

spike // Posted 16 February 2008 at 13:17

i think this whole system is mad, if you have actually tried to get into the fire service you will know that your really up against it any way- its a popular proffession. to make matters worse there is now even more racial descrimination than there ever was- the brigades now seem to have to fill a certain quota of ethnic and minority groups! ? but this is wrong isnt it should it not just simply be who is best for the job? regardless of the colour of there skin? to be honest i really dont care who i work with as long as they can do there job just as well as any one else and the majority of people feel the same way. on the application form to join you get asked not once but twice about your ethnic and religious backgrounds, once before you have even got the form and once during the form. so if as they say it doesnt make any difference then why do they ask????
surely if they were going for equality they would treat people as equal- ( after all thats what this whole thing is about) its making the whole situation worse by the day, by making people get angry because the minority groups are now being favoured. this in my mind is also racist and sexist, they are singling out the minority groups just as bad as people were 50 years ago. by trying to hard to make everyone "equal" they are having the opposite effect. any one else get the feeling this country is going ever so slightly insane?
good luck to any one who is hoping to get in at the moment- may the best person get the job!

Jess McCabe // Posted 16 February 2008 at 18:07

spike - it's very common to get asked about your ethnicity when filling in job applications. Unless there is abuse of the system, all this does is help employers to assess whether they are appealing to a diverse set of people (so they can analyse the statistics from all the applications they receive as a way of measuring whether they are being successful in attempting to get a wider range of people to apply - for example through the kind of recruitment days that have caused all this fuss). I assume that when you apply for a job with the fire service, you must have to interact with actual humans too - so putting questions on a form is not going to increase the chances of any kind of discrimination occurring. The fire chief (or whoever interviews you?!) will presumably be able to tell if you are a white man or a black woman, say, all on his/her own, without any assistance from a form!

Anyway, on one level - yes - of course any job should go to the best applicant. However, it's all a bit more complicated than that. If a particular job is perceived as the domain of, say, white men (and well done Express for carrying that one on!), then everyone else will be less likely to apply. You also have to contend with the deeply ingrained idea that fire fighting is somehow a "man's job". If nothing else, this means that the fire service is not drawing on the widest range of applicants, and thus perhaps the jobs are not going to those best suited. This isn't favouring applicantions from ethnic minority women and men and white women, it is simply increasing the pool of talent. All things being really equal, you would expect the make up of any workforce to be broadly representative of the population - the fact that it is not even close is a symptom that something is wrong, which this fire service has attempted to fix in an entirely non-controversial fashion (i.e. holding recruitment days!)

Jagtar // Posted 17 February 2008 at 19:00

Jess, Spike , Lawrence,

I feel that the debate is now moving in a positive direction however let me just clear up some common misunderstandings for the readers of this blog

1.. Setting targets for employment are legal and were first set for the fire service , police , home officer by the then Minster Jack Straw in 1999. The fire Service has many targets to achieve and little passion is shown when the fire service are set difficult financial or health and safety targets.

The one that has all the debate are employment targets.
FACT no Chef Fire officer has been sacked, disciplined, or even warned for not meeting the employment targets and I am not suggested they should be but I ham highlighting that these are targets that have no sanction or rewards. That is why they have not been achieved. Many Fire brigades have made no effort to change. Some have seen the benefits of having a workforce that reflects the community and are doing great work Avon being one example. If readers wish to debate the benefits of having a diverse workforce then ok lets have that debate

2. Quotas are illegal and do not exist in the UK. If any member of the public has evidence of Fire Brigades filling post because of the use of Quotas then they should make a formal complaint and supply the facts to the relevant bodies.

3. Positive Discrimination- if this is defined as selected someone for a job because of gender of ethnicity then this is also illegal, unless this is based on a genuine occupation requirement and I am not aware of any Fire Brigade that would be able to support positive discrimination on these grounds.

Spike I have been a supporter of IABPFF for many years and you can get my e-mail address fro Johnny Brewington

herra // Posted 21 March 2008 at 19:59

The fire department is a center of sexism and racism. The only way to end this is to end white male domination. The government is serious about protecting women and minorities they need to do something extreme like place a moratorium on the employment of white men in the fire department and only women and minorities could be employed

carol bresnen // Posted 26 March 2008 at 11:44

I am disgusted because there is no open day for white males only which is discriminating against a white male. If there was an open day just for white males then how women and the ethnic minority would react would be the same as others. At the end of the day it is who is best for the job and not what sex they are or the colour of the persons skin saving your life and if you really want to be a fire fighter and were the best man or woman for the job then you would be picked over a white male.

Jess McCabe // Posted 26 March 2008 at 11:53

Carol - the fire service is full of white men. They can go to any of the other open days, except for those specific ones.

Abraham Mehti Anthony // Posted 13 April 2008 at 21:29

Daily Mail? You take them seriously? Come on! We’re talking about a tabloid newspaper. Perhaps if a newspaper like the Guardian made such statements I would consider it inflammatory. Read carefully. I have nothing against your movement. If anything I am very proud of what feminism has achieved, but everyone knows that the Daily Mail is nonsense. Don’t credit them as genuine news by showing offence to their Psudo Journalistic babble. Furthermore, you’ll never get rid of such attitudes. If anyone says anything stupid like this either ignore them or laugh at how pathetic they are. By showing offence you’re merely stooping down to their level.

Chris // Posted 11 November 2008 at 12:12

Dear Fword/Jess I am a serving officer and a white man. I have had the privelige of being a firefighter for 15 years and in that time I have seen many racist and sexist bigots retire. The newer recruits and trainees are much more accepting and rational. I used to work in the hotel trade where the workforce was very different. Many women in top jobs, people from all over the world, different racial and cultural backgrounds. Just a normal workplace to me. I am happy to say that I am now working with others to address the balance of the workforce so it reflects the community.
To those who say there are no open days for white men, I disagree. I had complete access to a fire station through my recruitment due to knowing someone in the job. My open days were every weekend and weeknight.
I would also say that if you are a white man and think you are something above others, come and try if you think you're good enough. 90% of all applicants fail. Mostly white men.
The facts are this;- only 1 in 10 applicants is good enough to pass,
male of female, white or black, though it does to you, it doesnt matter to the job. We just want more women and minority candidates to apply in the first place.
To women and men everywhere, from all ethnic, cultural or lifestyle backgrounds I say this-try. You might like it, you might not. It may be hard, it may be easy. Only one way to know......

Jan // Posted 10 November 2009 at 11:45

If your house was on fire would you honestly give a fuck about the firefighters' race or sex as long as they saved your life? All discrimination is wrong and there's nothing positive about it. Some application forms ask for your sexuality, which takes the piss - OK, I don't really agree with them asking about your ethnicity either, though I realise that's for their statistics so they can't be accused of discrimination based on your appearance. But sexual orientation? How would they know that unless you made a point of telling them? It's like, if it's not going to affect my job application, why do you need to know this stuff? I think most sensible people understand the difference between political correctness and challenging genuine discrimination but PC can also be used to justify the opposite course of action too - I applied for a call centre job recently where the interview appeared to go well but when they called me back they said they were giving the job to someone else and it was nothing personal. I did ask if they had any constructive feedback and they said although I'd interviewed very well, they "didn't want to expose me to the potentially offensive banter of male staff". So basically they're using political correctness as an excuse to deny me a job, but claim to be doing it for my protection. i wrote a letter of complaint about it and got a reply 2 weeks later to say that due to problems in the past with racial and sexual harassment they now only employ white males. I sent a copy of this to my MP but never heard back. So yeah - what IS wrong with just employing the right person for the job? Isn't that the easiest way to promote good relations between staff, or am I just being dim? Sorry if this went off topic but I don't think it did - I just wanted to make the point that PC basically IS discrimination and it can even be used against the people it is supposed to defend! COMPLETE BULLSHIT!

Jess McCabe // Posted 10 November 2009 at 14:51

@Jan That's awful. I don't think there was anything politically correct in their reason to deny you that job, it was pure and simple sex discrimination (and illegal).

Kristel // Posted 10 November 2009 at 15:26

Carol Bresnan, if you'll just take a look at the composition of the Fire Service, you'll see that pretty much every day is open day for the 90%+ default white dudes. So can't the "women and ethnic minorities" (and is it just me, or is anyone else getting extremely weary of that tag?) have one to themselves once in a little biddy while...? Sounds reasonable. I'm sure some of them could do the job just as well, so the point has to be, why have so few been allowed to up to now?

gadgetgal // Posted 10 November 2009 at 16:08


Totally illegal but hard to fight since they haven't actually done anything during the time you've worked for them. You can still take it to tribunal but it's tougher to get there (details on www.equalityhumanrights.com). There's always the industry ombudsman, you can find out which one to contact on the government website (www.direct.gov.uk) under making complaints.

But I find the better, more likely route to succeed is to try and get someone more powerful than you to do it for you - if you found out about the job vacancy through the job centre report it to them on the grounds of sexual discrimination. Same goes for an employment agency, and tell them you want to make it formal - if you just say you're complaining (verbally) they'll drop it as soon as you walk out the door. If you found out about it through a local paper write to the editor. And for all of them if you have some kind of written proof or the name of the person you spoke to that should be all you need - they'll get scared before it goes too far if you have absolute evidence against them!

nick // Posted 11 November 2009 at 12:35

If say , the Royal College of Nursing ,
held an open day for men , what would the Daily Express think of that ?
Denying women the chance of employment ?
Jatgar ......'90% of fire fighting courses have white male attendees' ...
maybe that's all the choice they think they have when they leave school ?? Armed services , fire services ???? I dont know what qualifications you need to become a firefighter , so if they have poor exam results employment becomes limited ...even more so in a recession........

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