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FIRE AID attends AFSA’s Annual National Conference

Tue 27, Nov, 2018

Why do diversity and inclusion matter in the Fire service? This question was discussed as delegates from across the country gathered for the 10th Asian Fire Service Association National Conference. The event was hosted by Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and held at the Village Hotel in Ashton-Under-Lyne on 22/23rd November 2018. 

Successive speakers reminded the fire and rescue service that research has shown that diversity improves business results for the public, teams and employees. Organisational cultures with a more inclusive environment prove to be more innovative. A fire and rescue service that hears and embraces many voices and perspectives will shape better outcomes and a stronger future for the fire and rescue service.

The AFSA Awards were also held as part of the event with people and teams from across the country honoured for their work over the past 12 months.

The conference looked at the importance of promoting and supporting diversity in the workplace as an important aspect of good people management and community interaction. In addition, how to reap the benefits of a diverse workforce and the importance of having an inclusive environment where everyone feels able to participate and achieve their potential. While UK legislation – covering age, disability, race, religion, gender and sexual orientation among others – sets minimum standards, the conference urged delegates to go beyond legal compliance and seek to add value to an organisation, contributing to employee well-being and engagement.

This was all discussed within the context of the challenges within the fire and rescue services and their partners, centred on equality, diversity, fairness, cohesion and inclusion and moves towards ever increasing devolved powers to the regions and directly elected mayors.

Around 250 delegates representing over 50 different organisations attended across the two days to share what work they are doing and how services can work to embed diversity and inclusion into everything they do. 

AFSA National Advisor Jagtar Singh, said: “The turnout was fantastic but what was most impressive was the energy, creativity and commitment to share and network during the two days”

“In addition, AFSA prides itself on working with partners in the system therefore to see the police, NHS, Ambulance and community organisations represented was most gratifying equally senior leaders from the fire service chairing panels, workshops sent out a positive statement that the fire service is committed to diversity and inclusion”.

The conference also recognised the wealth of good practice within the fire service and the contribution of individuals.

A range of awards were presented across the night, and the winners were as follows:

Outstanding Contribution to Charitable Activity: Phil Hales (West Midlands Fire Service) and Neal and Andy Paddington (Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service)

Charity Challenge Endeavour: Simon Woodward and Malcolm Fellows (West Midlands Fire Service)

Charity Challenge Innovation: Danyal Perager (West Midlands Fire Service)

Charity Challenge Team: Pup Upton and Dave Thurston (East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service) and British Red Cross Society (Staffordshire)

Award of Outstanding Endeavour by an AFSA Member: Nasar Hussain (West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service)

Award for Champion of Equality and Diversity: Farshid Raoufi (Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service)

Award for Leadership in Equality and Diversity: Paul Parry and Tony Deacon (Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service)

Award for Positive Action 2018: Kairen Smith (North West Ambulance Service)

Award for Addressing Health Inequalities in the Community (Organisation): Paul Brunt and Wayne Norris (Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service)

Award for Addressing Health Inequalities in the Community (Individual): Sital Singh (UK Sikh Health Chaplaincy Group)

Man of the Year: Shahbaz Shah (Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service)

Woman of the Year: Jax Effiong (Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service)

Chairs Shining Light Award: Al Khizhara Mosque (North Manchester)

National Advisors Shining Light Award: Lesley Faux, Staffordshire Combined authority & Health Education England

Service to AFSA Awards 2018: Rex Webb (Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service), Robin Iffla (Scottish Fire and Rescue Service), Trevor Barnard (South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service), Rehana Iqbal (Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service), Wesley Williams (West Midlands Fire Service), Balvinder Bains (former West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service) Jaggit Hayer (former Derbyshire fire and rescue service)

Across the two days £2,500 was raised for good causes and will go to the likes of the Fire Fighters Charity and the Mayor of Greater Manchester’s Homelessness Fund.

The two-day conference was opened by GMFRS Chief Fire Officer Jim Wallace and AFSA Chair Yasmin Bukhari.

Mr Wallace called on the delegates to take the opportunity to reflect celebrate what has been achieved and look at ways of doing things event better to ensure diversity and inclusion is imbedded across everything fire and rescue services are doping.

The first speaker was Hugh Giles, Head of Emergency Services at Capsticks Solicitors, who spoke about how the currently political, economic and legal environment is influencing diversity and inclusion.

He spoke about the vast implications of Brexit and how this could impact workers and organisations. He told the audience of the opportunities for the UK to go beyond EU law especially in terms of positive action however he also shared the possibility equality law could be sacrificed for economic or political gain.

The second speaker of the day was Mark McAteer, Director of Strategic Planning, Performance and Communications at the Scottish Fire Service. He focused on the service’s work with their communities and how they integrate equality and the broad inequalities agenda across the country and feeding into the priorities of others including key partners.

Jagtar Singh, AFSA Advisor, spoke about the birth and purpose of AFSA and its role to help the fire and rescue service address inequalities and ensure fairness and social justice were addressed. He shared the growth of AFSA as a staff network that represents now 44 organisations. His speech was followed by a panel session, led by Chair of the National Fire Chief’s Council Roy Wilshere. Panellists included Dawn Docx, GMFRS Deputy Chief Fire Officer and Alex Johnson, Assistant Chief Fire Officer for South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, Zoe Evans, Director of HR, Bedfordshire Fire & Rescue service, Yasmin Bukhari, AFSA Chair

The morning was wrapped up with an eye-opening and interesting speech from Nigel Bromage, a former member of a far-right group, who spoke about his personal journey and countering extremism. He challenged thinking in terms of the sophisticated processes used to groom recruits and infiltrate organisations.

Across the two days delegates got the chance to take part in workshops as well, looking at areas including dealing with sickness absence, mental health, unconscious bias and LGBT & employment employees and the gender pay gap.

Focussing on the theme of devolution, the first speakers on day two were Beverley Hughes, Deputy Mayor of Greater Manchester and Andrew Lightfoot, Deputy Chief Executive of the GMCA. 

Baroness Hughes discussed the benefits that devolution bring and how organisations in Greater Manchester are coming together to pool resources and thinking and linking diversity and inclusion across different areas of work.

Following them was Phil Garrigan, Chief Fire Officer at Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service who spoke about blue light collaboration in relation to diversity and inclusion. He told delegates about the good work going on in Merseyside, especially in relation to how they work closely with Merseyside Police to achieve their goals.

Dr Emma Dean, Research Evaluation Officer at GMFRS shared her work that looked at the disproportionate prosecutions involving BME businesses involving fire safety infringements.

The final speaker of the conference was Ian Hopkins, Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, who spoke about the necessity for an inclusive workforce and the importance of leadership, culture and accountability.

Yasmin Bukhari, AFSA Chair, said: “The initial feedback from the conference indicates delegates awareness of issues were raised as well as becoming aware of tools they can use back in their organisation to help facilitate culture change”.

“The conference was a pleasure to host and I look forward to 2019 and working with fire and rescue service, NFCC, Home office and others in partnership, finally I would like to thank all those involved in putting together the conference”.

Dates for the diary

  • 13th and 14th June 2019 – AFSA Spring Conference 2019 – Hosts Hampshire Fire & Rescue Service
  • 28th and 29th November 2019 – AFSA National Conference 2019 – Hosts South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service

For more information about AFSA go to: http://afsa.co.uk/