In the mid-to-late 1990s Networking Women in the Fire Service (NWFS) was established as a self-help group for women in the Fire and Rescue Service. NWFS sought to influence the equality agenda, engaging with the major Fire and Rescue Service players in order to have the voice of all women working 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.
These events 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 review in 1999, NWFS was invited to be a full member of the group that worked on ‘Towards Diversity 1’ and ‘Towards Diversity 11’. In 2003, following the abolition of the 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 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 was well recognised and we regularly received requests for speakers at conferences and seminars as well as being invited to address organisations both within the FRS 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 evolved. In the early days we worked to raise the profile of the FRS as an employer of women, providing role models to services to assist in campaigns to attract women. We supported services in development of their policies, provision of suitable uniform, facilities, and equipment. Our focus then shifted to active support of services’ recruitment campaigns and positive action events.
Our willingness to working partnership has been key to our success. We have never taken an adversarial approach and have a 20 year track record of making a positive contribution to making the service a better place for everyone to work.
Time for change, and a new name
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 the organisation. 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. We re-launched the organisation with it’s new name, Women in the Fire Service UK.