ITV 2 programme ‘Love Island’ has been accused of peddling “offensive cliches” by the London Fire Brigade, after televising a game that showed male contestants stripping to their underwear to save the women from danger.
Commissioner Dany Cotton, the first woman to hold the LFB’s highest-ranking position, said this narrative suggests all firefighters are “muscle-bound” men and may be stopping women from joining the service.
“No wonder so many young women are put off by that,” she added.
Cotton criticised the episode, which was broadcast five weeks ago, for “rolling out every offensive cliche possible with their so-called ‘fireman challenge’” and said it just reinforced the “misconception” that firefighters are only men. ITV said they are not commenting on the claims.
Cotton argued that putting an end to “lazy cliches” would change the public’s attitude and encourage more woman to join the fire service.
Josephine Reynolds, who was one of the first female firefighters in the UK when she joined the Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service in 1982 at just 17 years old, agrees with Cotton that shows like ‘Love Island’ “probably don’t help” with the gender imbalance in the service.
“There is such little representation of females in the fire brigade, so little girls don’t see those role models and then don’t consider it as a career,” she told HuffPost UK.
She believes having female firefighters leading recruitment drives in schools and American-style ‘firefighting camps’ for young women would be positive steps.
“We know women can do this job as easily as men - I was the same height, the same build as many of my colleagues - I didn’t let it stop me,” said Reynolds.
Kristi Burling, 26, a firefighter from Cheshunt in Hertfordshire, said she can also see where Cotton is coming from: “When I tell guys what I do, a lot of them still say - really? Just because I’m 5′4 and not that muscly.
“But they don’t make the training tests any easier for women you know. I’m still in there dragging a 55kg dummy out of a burning building.”
Just 300 of the London Fire Brigade’s 5,000 operational firefighters - around 6% of the force - are women.
The London Fire Brigade also criticised adverts on TV that show women swooning over firefighters as part of its Firefighting Sexism campaign, which aims to improve equality and diversity within the organisation.
A YouGov survey commissioned by the Mayor of London found that 25% of women think men are better equipped to be firefighters. But just 7% of women thought the same of police officers.
Cotton said: “It was 30 years ago people were shocked to see women police officers and it’s frankly embarrassing that the public are still shocked to see women firefighters today.”
On the contrary, she said the armed forces and police had been “enriched” by more female representation on the frontlines and praised the way TV characters (like Jane Tennison from ‘Prime Suspect’) had changed perceptions.
“It’s time the fire and rescue service caught up,” she said.
How fit do you need to be to become a firefighter?
You will need to pass six work related physical job tests before you progress in the firefighter selection process.
The ladder climb, the ladder lift, the casualty drag, being trapped in an enclosed space, assembling equipment and carrying equipment.
Earlier this year, the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) ran a consultation on a proposal that adverts “must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence”.
An ASA spokeswoman said: “We’ve published evidence that shows gender stereotypes have the potential to cause harm because they limit how people’s potential is considered by themselves and others - with costs to the individual, economy and society.
“We’ve already been taking action to ban ads which reinforce harmful stereotypes and we’ll publish the results of our consultation around new rules for advertisers later this year.”
Record numbers of women applied to become firefighters at LFB in 2018, with over 700 female applicants.
Cotton said: “We have a real chance to change the Brigade to ensure we better reflect the city we serve. Modern firefighting is much more than just putting out fires, blue lights and sirens.
“I really want all members of London’s varied communities to seriously consider firefighting as a career option.”