Training event inspires and empowers women in the fire service to succeed

Woman abseiling at Women in the Fire Service event at the Fire Service College

Wow. What an amazing weekend.

We are still celebrating the success of Women in the Fire Service UK’s 19th National Training & Development Event which took place on 21-23 June.

‘Celebrating Difference, Improving Delivery’ was the theme for the event and women and men came to learn together to build on existing skills and to learn new ones. 

The Fire Service College, Moreton-in-Marsh, was partner and host to 248 delegates from 40 UK Fire & Rescue Services and five international services, including Switzerland, the Netherlands, Canada, Lebanon and Spain. 

A team of thirty dedicated volunteers from our National Executive Committee worked tirelessly to organise the event and facilitate and deliver some of the workshops and activities. 

“Wow. What an amazing weekend. I have met so many amazing and inspiring women, made fantastic friends – and achieved things I never believed I could.

If someone had told me two months ago I would be crawling through tiny dark tunnels and driving a fire appliance I would have laughed so loud. Thank you for helping me see my own abilities!”

— Jackie Evans, Data Protection Officer, Mid and West Wales Fire & Rescue Service

Some of the workshops on offer were:

  • Be a Control Operator
  • Large Animal Rescue
  • Be a Firefighter
  • Dynamic Situational Awareness/Operational Decision Making
  • Advanced Trauma
  • Fire Behaviour/Fire Investigation
  • Drive an Appliance
  • Abseiling/Self Defence

There were also popular workshops on inclusion and diversity, coaching for personal and professional development, fitness and wellbeing, menopause, mental health and building mentoring relationships. Delegates had the opportunity to keep fit throughout with boot camp, aqua fitness, pilates, and Parkrun sessions.

So far, the feedback from attendees has reinforced why we hoped people would want to be part of this rewarding experience. Many have come away from the event with friends for life, a renewed confidence in their own abilities, pride in going out of their comfort zone and support for the equality agenda.

“I would like to thank HFRS for giving me the opportunity to attend another fantastic weekend organised by Women in the Fire Service. I have attended workshops like Urban Search and Rescue and Be a Firefighter, got to crawl in all sorts of tunnels carrying a casualty on a stretcher, and even wear BA and put a car fire out! I would like to say to people who have not been before, both operational and non-operational, men or women, to sign up for next year and go attend some amazing workshops and meet some inspirational people.”

— Simona, Training Administrator, Humberside Fire & Rescue Service

The purpose of the training and development event was to engage women and men from the Fire & Rescue Service community in a training and development experience, and to help people gain a better understanding of how they can contribute to building a more progressive fire service.

“The event is extremely well organised giving attendees the opportunity to sample a diverse range of functions within the Fire and Rescue Service and other sectors. The weekend has a great ethos around going beyond comfort zones and encouraging everyone that gender is not a barrier to success within the Fire and Rescue Services across the UK.” 

— Matt Jones, Group Manager, South Wales Fire & Rescue Service

Keynote presentations at the opening ceremony on Friday evening were given by London Fire Brigade Commissioner Dany Cotton and Sophie Montagne of the Ice Maidens.

“The buzz started early on Friday and if I’m honest one week on – I am still on a high. The positive conversations I had with people around taking on challenges for the first time, meeting new colleagues and stretching themselves in this safe environment only encourages me and all of those who help put on this event to work even harder next year.

It was great to see a good balance of previous attendees and first-timers, and I hope each and every single delegate went away with something to keep them motivated and inspired. I certainly know all the volunteers and helpers did!”

Julie King, Chair of WFS UK and Group Manager with East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service

We presented an award to Dany Cotton as a mark of recognition for her commitment and dedication to WFS UK, after her announcement earlier this year that she would be stepping down as Chair. Over the past 19 years, Dany has held roles of Chair and Vice Chair as an Honorary Officer of our National Executive Committee. 

The 19th National Training & Development Event was kindly sponsored by Bristol Uniforms Ltd, APD Communications and Supply+. 

The 20th annual event takes place 19-21 June, 2020, at the Fire Service College

To register your interest to attend the event or if you would like to be a corporate sponsor please contact Karen Smith: contact@wfs.org.uk 

2019 WFS Trip to Lebanon

In 2017 a small team from Operation Florian visited Lebanon to deliver fire prevention training to a range of NGOs (non-governmental organisations) hosted by Save the Children.  This was designed to embed fire safety awareness in their work supporting Syrian and Palestinian refugees living in ITS (informal tented settlements) and SSB (sub-standard buildings) as it had been identified that fire safety and education within the camps was extremely poor.

While firefighting media such as extinguishers, beaters and fire hooks have been provided and training sessions delivered by the NGOs in relation to fire safety, there was concern that further evaluations were needed with women and children.

Operation Florian subsequently contacted WFS UK for assistance in providing some gender specific fire safety research and after submitting a successful bid for funding with the Worshipful Company of Firefighters a revisit to the area was planned under the umbrella of Fire Aid to continue work with Save the Children.

In January 2019 a small team from Fire and Rescue Services across the country travelled to Lebanon.  The team was made up of 5 women from different roles bringing years of operational experience and skills in the training and development of firefighters as well as extensive knowledge and expertise in fire safety, fire behaviour, child psychology, education, diversity and inclusion.  TGM Steve Jordan from Greater Manchester FRS accompanied the team having led on the Operation Florian trip in 2017; two of the ladies within the team had also been on the 2017 trip and were able to provide a valuable insight into the challenges faced by the refugees in the camps.

Beirut is a huge city with around 2 million people and it seems as many cars! It sprawls for miles along the mountainous Mediterranean coast and there is much renovation and rebuilding taking place after years of civil war creating an impressive skyline of modern tower blocks alongside traditional buildings, many still bearing stark reminders of the past.  Networks of narrow streets within the city lead to wide highways with it seems, calm courtesy to other drivers being the only rules of the road – at times chaotic and a little nerve wracking!

At the beginning of the week the team met with Save the Children to learn from the shelter team how the fire safety recommendations made by the 2017 Operation Florian team were being implemented. It was clear that Save the Children’s education packages have developed greatly and these were being shared with other NGO’s and cascaded out to the camps. There are around 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon with over half being children. Many live in informal tented settlements, with those able to afford it living in sub-standard buildings some in a reasonable state of repair, others not so.  It was encouraging to learn that while multiple families are living together in these buildings Save the Children deliver fire safety checks and provide smoke detectors and fire extinguishers.

Those living in the informal tented settlements are not so fortunate.  The team visited 6 different camps all with their own challenges.  The largest had over 200 tents, each tent providing shelter for several families.  Save the Children or other agencies provide some basic protection such as plastic sheeting and the families gather wood and other building materials from where they can to build their homes.  This last winter presented further challenges for the families as there has been unusually heavy rainfall which caused devastating flooding in the camps of up to a meter soaking beds, blankets, wood and clothing.

The team spent time in the camps talking to the refugees with the aid of an interpreter and it was clear to see how desperate their situation was.  Many of those we spoke to had good knowledge of what to do in a fire and how to treat minor burns which was comforting, however their main concern was with the electrics in the settlements.  Lebanon’s electrical infrastructure is fragile and many camps only have power for 4 – 6 hours a day.  Illegal connections made to national power supplies lead to dangerous electrical cables trailing all over the tents with exposed wires, overloaded sockets and misuse of electrical equipment creating high risk of fires and electrocution. 

Many of the families we met had been living in these tents for years.  Considering the crisis started 8 years ago, it is difficult to imagine how they must feel after the traumas they have had to endure in leaving their own country with only what they could carry to find safety and shelter in a strange environment.  We were touched by their friendly welcomes, happy to show us their homes and give us the opportunity to speak with them. 

Regrettably the situation is not going to get any easier, increasing population within the camps and limited opportunities for camp expansion means some families are building a second floor to their tents creating huge risks in terms of health and safety and in particular fire safety. Managing such conditions is a huge challenge for the NGO’s and one which the team were able to discuss at a presentation of their findings with the In-Country Director of Save the Children at the end of the week’s research.   

While 4 of the team were out in the field working with Save the Children, TGM Steve Jordan and CM Alison Stone from Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service visited fire stations in Beirut and Zahle at the invitation of the Head of Training for the Lebanese Civil Defence.  Currently nearly all firefighters in Lebanon are volunteers and deliver a service to their communities with minimal resources.  For example; in one of the stations where they had 25 firefighters there were only 7 sets of fire kit to share.  With a great deal of hard work by Steve Jordan and with transportation costs being picked up by Save the Children, a container of decommissioned kit including; old boots, helmets, tunics, leggings and RTC kit has recently arrived in Beirut which will be distributed to some of the 200 fire stations across Lebanon providing firefighters with much needed PPE.

Alison was able to spend some time with firefighters learning about their incidents and how they manage with the limited equipment and resources they have.  Alison was also able to share some of her vast knowledge and experience with the crews so promoting women in operational roles.   Alison was also able to facilitate an RTC training session with some of the firefighters which enabled one of the female firefighters the opportunity to get hands on with the cutting tools – something she had not done before.

Some of the team were also invited to the British Embassy to speak about the gender project with Save the Children in the refugee camps and the importance of the relationship with the Lebanese Civil Defence.  All parties hoping that there will be further projects in the future.

The week we spent in Lebanon was hard work with long and difficult days, followed by discussions and report writing late into the evenings but it has been a great experience.  As always I am inspired by the incredible women I am lucky enough to work with, their knowledge, professionalism and expertise made me so very proud.  I know that our visit will have made a difference not only for those refugees living in such desperate conditions, but also to the firefighters on stations with their limited resources.  Relationships with Save the Children, the Lebanese Civil Defence and hopefully the British Embassy will continue to grow and with this in mind we are hoping that two female firefighters from one of the stations visited will be able to attend the WFS training and development weekend in the summer to further their knowledge and experience and continue to develop our relationships with international fire services.


2018 Project in South Sudan

A volunteer team of 6 visited South Sudan to deliver training on behalf of FIREAID and were working with the UN International Organisation for Migration.

The project consisted of two aspects of work, first to run a training course for community fire safety and community fire response teams.  Secondly, to carry out a fire safety assessment of the displaced persons camp, which can hold thousands of people living in makeshift accommodation in a very small area, with schools, hospitals, markets etc. adding to the risk.

The team consisted of: Adrian Brown (Retired East Sussex), WM Jenny Hill (West Midlands FS / Fire Service College), WM Jenny Nangle (Lancashire FRS), WM Kathryn Duncan (London Fire Brigade), CM Ali Stone (Hampshire FRS), WM Clare Holmes (South Yorkshire FS)

Read how they got on:-